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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2014 Jan;1845(1):20-30. doi: 10.1016/j.bbcan.2013.11.001. Epub 2013 Nov 21.

Saffron and natural carotenoids: Biochemical activities and anti-tumor effects.

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Department of Hepatitis and AIDS, Pasteur Institute of Iran, Tehran, Iran. Electronic address:
Department of Hepatitis and AIDS, Pasteur Institute of Iran, Tehran, Iran.
Department of Clinical Biochemistry, Tarbiat Modares University, Tehran, Iran.


Saffron, a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, is rich in carotenoids. Two main natural carotenoids of saffron, crocin and crocetin, are responsible for its color. Preclinical studies have shown that dietary intake of some carotenoids have potent anti-tumor effects both in vitro and in vivo, suggesting their potential preventive and/or therapeutic roles in several tissues. The reports represent that the use of carotenoids without the potential for conversion to vitamin A may provide further protection and avoid toxicity. The mechanisms underlying cancer chemo-preventive activities of carotenoids include modulation of carcinogen metabolism, regulation of cell growth and cell cycle progression, inhibition of cell proliferation, anti-oxidant activity, immune modulation, enhancement of cell differentiation, stimulation of cell-to-cell gap junction communication, apoptosis and retinoid-dependent signaling. Taken together, different hypotheses for the antitumor actions of saffron and its components have been proposed such as a) the inhibitory effect on cellular DNA and RNA synthesis, but not on protein synthesis; b) the inhibitory effect on free radical chain reactions; c) the metabolic conversion of naturally occurring carotenoids to retinoids; d) the interaction of carotenoids with topoisomerase II, an enzyme involved in cellular DNA-protein interaction. Furthermore, the immunomodulatory activity of saffron was studied on driving toward Th1 and Th2 limbs of the immune system. In this mini-review, we briefly describe biochemical and immunological activities and chemo-preventive properties of saffron and natural carotenoids as an anticancer drug.


AGS; Biochemical/immunological activities; CAR; CAT; CD; CHD; COPD; COX-2; Cancer; Carotenoids; DMC; GJC; GPx; Hep-2; HepG-2; IGF-1; LDL; MHC-I; NF-κB; NK-cells; NO; Natural metabolites; PCa; PPARγ; Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors; RAR; ROS; SOD; SXR/PXR; Saffron; T-helper; Th; calf thymus DNA; catalase; chronic obstructive lung disease; circular dichroism; constitutive androstane receptor; coronary heart disease; ctDNA; cycloxygenase-2; dimethylcrocetin; gap junctional communication; gastric adenocarcinoma; glutathione peroxidase; hepatocellular carcinoma cell line; insulin growth factor-1; laryngeal carcinoma cell line; low density lipoprotein; major histocompatibility complex class I; natural killer cells; nitric oxide; nuclear factor-κB; prostate cancer; reactive oxygen species; retinoid-like receptors; steroid/xenobiotic receptor/pregnane X receptor; superoxide dismutase

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