Curcumin induces apoptosis in HCT-116 human colon cancer cells in a p21-independent manner

Jane L. Watson, Richard Hill, Patrick W. K. Lee, Carman A. Giacomantonio, David W. Hoskin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Several micronutrients present in fruits and vegetables exhibit anticancer activity as a result of their actions on molecular targets involved in carcinogenesis and tumor progression. Curcumin, a phenolic phytochemical derived from the rhizome of Curcuma longa, exhibits both cancer-preventative activity and growth inhibitory effects on neoplastic cells. Several studies report that curcumin inhibits cancer cell proliferation and induces apoptosis in cancer cells through p21-mediated cell cycle arrest. Cancer cells that are deficient in p21 are also reported to be more prone to undergo apoptosis in response to a variety of cytotoxic agents. In this study, we determined whether curcumin-induced cytotoxicity in cultures of HCT-116 human colon cancer cells was dependent on p21 status. Curcumin killed wild-type HCT-116 cells in a dose- and time-dependent manner, as measured in an MTT cell viability assay. Moreover, an equivalent cytotoxic effect by curcumin was observed in both p21+/+ and p21−/−HCT-116 cells, indicating that curcumin-induced cytotoxicity was p21-independent. Primary cultures of human dermal fibroblasts were less sensitive than HCT-116 colon cancer cells to lower doses of curcumin, suggesting a degree of selectivity for neoplastic cells. Western blot analysis showed that cell death in curcumin-treated cultures of p21+/+ and p21−/− HCT-116 cells was associated with a reduction in pro-caspase-3 and PARP-1 cleavage, which are indicative of apoptosis. We conclude that curcumin-induced apoptosis in HCT-116 colon cancer cells does not depend on p21 status.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)230-233
Number of pages4
JournalExperimental and Molecular Pathology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • colon cancer
  • p21
  • phytochemical
  • curcumin
  • apoptosis


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