Curcumin causes superoxide anion production and p53-independent apoptosis in human colon cancer cells

Jane L. Watson, Richard Hill, Paul B. Yaffe, Anna Greenshields, Mark Walsh, Patrick W. Lee, Carman A. Giacomantonio, David W. Hoskin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Curcumin from the rhizome of the Curcuma longa plant has chemopreventative activity and inhibits the growth of neoplastic cells. Since p53 has been suggested to be important for anticancer activity by curcumin, we investigated curcumin-induced cytotoxicity in cultures of p53+/+ and p53−/− HCT-116 colon cancer cells, as well as mutant p53 HT-29 colon cancer cells. Curcumin killed wild-type p53 HCT-116 cells and mutant p53 HT-29 cells in a dose- and time-dependent manner. In addition, curcumin-treated p53+/+ HCT-116 cells and mutant p53 HT-29 cells showed upregulation of total and activated p53, as well as increased expression of p53-regulated p21, PUMA (p53 upregulated modulator of apoptosis), and Bax; however, an equivalent cytotoxic effect by curcumin was observed in p53+/+ and p53−/− HCT-116 cells, demonstrating that curcumin-induced cytotoxicity was independent of p53 status. Similar results were obtained when the cytotoxic effect of curcumin was assessed in wild-type p53 HCT-116 cells after siRNA-mediated p53 knockdown. Chromatin condensation, poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase-1 cleavage and reduced pro-caspase-3 levels in curcumin-treated p53+/+ and p53−/− HCT-116 cells suggested that curcumin caused apoptosis. In addition, exposure to curcumin resulted in superoxide anion production and phosphorylation of oxidative stress proteins in p53+/+ and p53−/− HCT-116 cells. Collectively, our results indicate that, despite p53 upregulation and activation, curcumin-induced apoptosis in colon cancer cells was independent of p53 status and involved oxidative stress. Curcumin may therefore have therapeutic potential in the management of colon cancer, especially in tumors that are resistant to conventional chemotherapy due to defects in p53 expression or function.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages9
JournalCancer Letters
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • apoptosis
  • colon cancer
  • curcumin
  • oxidative stress
  • p53


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