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Pharmacol Rev. 2013 Dec 24;66(1):222-307. doi: 10.1124/pr.110.004044. Print 2014.

The molecular basis for the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of curcumin and its metabolites in relation to cancer.

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Department of Experimental Surgery, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, Meibergdreef 9, 1105AZ Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


This review addresses the oncopharmacological properties of curcumin at the molecular level. First, the interactions between curcumin and its molecular targets are addressed on the basis of curcumin's distinct chemical properties, which include H-bond donating and accepting capacity of the β-dicarbonyl moiety and the phenylic hydroxyl groups, H-bond accepting capacity of the methoxy ethers, multivalent metal and nonmetal cation binding properties, high partition coefficient, rotamerization around multiple C-C bonds, and the ability to act as a Michael acceptor. Next, the in vitro chemical stability of curcumin is elaborated in the context of its susceptibility to photochemical and chemical modification and degradation (e.g., alkaline hydrolysis). Specific modification and degradatory pathways are provided, which mainly entail radical-based intermediates, and the in vitro catabolites are identified. The implications of curcumin's (photo)chemical instability are addressed in light of pharmaceutical curcumin preparations, the use of curcumin analogues, and implementation of nanoparticulate drug delivery systems. Furthermore, the pharmacokinetics of curcumin and its most important degradation products are detailed in light of curcumin's poor bioavailability. Particular emphasis is placed on xenobiotic phase I and II metabolism as well as excretion of curcumin in the intestines (first pass), the liver (second pass), and other organs in addition to the pharmacokinetics of curcumin metabolites and their systemic clearance. Lastly, a summary is provided of the clinical pharmacodynamics of curcumin followed by a detailed account of curcumin's direct molecular targets, whereby the phenotypical/biological changes induced in cancer cells upon completion of the curcumin-triggered signaling cascade(s) are addressed in the framework of the hallmarks of cancer. The direct molecular targets include the ErbB family of receptors, protein kinase C, enzymes involved in prostaglandin synthesis, vitamin D receptor, and DNA.

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