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Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2015 Dec 1;289(2):251-61. doi: 10.1016/j.taap.2015.09.018. Epub 2015 Sep 26.

Redox cycling of endogenous copper by ferulic acid leads to cellular DNA breakage and consequent cell death: A putative cancer chemotherapy mechanism.

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Department of Biochemistry, Faculty of Life Sciences, A.M. University, Aligarh, UP 202002, India.
Genome Biology Lab, Department of Biosciences, Jamia Millia Islamia, Central University, New Delhi 110025, India.
Department of Biochemistry, Faculty of Life Sciences, A.M. University, Aligarh, UP 202002, India. Electronic address:


Ferulic acid (FA) is a plant polyphenol showing diverse therapeutic effects against cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. FA is a known antioxidant at lower concentrations, however at higher concentrations or in the presence of metal ions such as copper, it may act as a pro-oxidant. It has been reported that copper levels are significantly raised in different malignancies. Cancer cells are under increased oxidative stress as compared to normal cells. Certain therapeutic substances like polyphenols can further increase this oxidative stress and kill cancer cells without affecting the proliferation of normal cells. Through various in vitro experiments we have shown that the pro-oxidant properties of FA are enhanced in the presence of copper. Comet assay demonstrated the ability of FA to cause oxidative DNA breakage in human peripheral lymphocytes which was ameliorated by specific copper-chelating agent such as neocuproine and scavengers of ROS. This suggested the mobilization of endogenous copper in ROS generation and consequent DNA damage. These results were further validated through cytotoxicity experiments involving different cell lines. Thus, we conclude that such a pro-oxidant mechanism involving endogenous copper better explains the anticancer activities of FA. This would be an alternate non-enzymatic, and copper-mediated pathway for the cytotoxic activities of FA where it can selectively target cancer cells with elevated levels of copper and ROS.


Copper; Cytotoxicity; DNA breakage; Ferulic acid; Pro-oxidant; ROS

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