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J Biol Regul Homeost Agents. 2013 Jan-Mar;27(1):105-19.

Curcumin induces apoptosis in breast cancer cell lines and delays the growth of mammary tumors in neu transgenic mice.

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Department of Experimental Medicine, Sapienza University of Rome, Rome, Italy.


Breast cancer is a leading cancer in women and despite the benefits of the current therapies a significant number of patients with this tumor is at risk of relapse. Some of the alterations taking place in breast cancer cells are currently exploited by molecularly targeted drugs. Different drugs have been developed which target a single molecule but, given that the tumor originates from the dysregulation of many genes, there is the need to find new drugs that have more than one molecular target. Curcumin [1,7-bis-(4-hydroxy-3-methoxyphenyl)-1,6-heptadiene-3,5-dione] (CUR), a polyphenolic compound found in the spice turmeric, is a pleiotropic molecule able to interact with a variety of molecular targets and has antitumor, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immunomodulatory and antimicrobial activities. Here we demonstrate that CUR inhibits the growth of breast cancer cell lines in a dose dependent manner, with IC50 values in the micromolar range, and induces an increase in the percentage of cells in sub-G0 phase, representing the apoptotic cell population. The activation of apoptosis was confirmed by PARP-1 cleavage and by the increased ratio between the pro-apoptotic Bax and the anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 protein. In addition, in CUR-treated cells the activity of ERK1/ERK2 MAP kinases was down-regulated. The cytotoxic effects of CUR were observed in breast cancer cells expressing either high or low levels of ErbB2/neu. The in vivo antitumor activity of CUR was tested in BALB-neuT mice transgenic for the neu oncogene, which develop atypical hyperplasia of the mammary gland at 6 weeks of age and invasive carcinoma at 16 weeks of age. CUR, administered to mice both early and in an advanced stage of mammary carcinogenesis, induced a significant prolongation of tumor-free survival and a reduction of tumor multiplicity. In addition, CUR administration was safe, since no modification of hematological and clinical chemistry parameters could be observed in BALB-neuT and BALB/c mice treated with this compound for several weeks. These findings support further studies on the therapeutic potential of CUR in combination with standard therapies in breast cancer patients.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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