A novel apoptosis-like pathway, independent of mitochondria and caspases, induced by curcumin in human lymphoblastoid T (Jurkat) cells

Exp Cell Res. 1999 Jun 15;249(2):299-307. doi: 10.1006/excr.1999.4480.


We have shown previously [E. Sikora, A. Bielak-Zmijewska, K. Piwocka, J. Skierski, and E. Radziszewska (1997) Biochem. Pharmacol. 54, 899-907] that curcumin prevents formation of oligonucleosomal DNA fragmentation in rat thymocytes and human leukemic T lymphocytes (Jurkat cells) induced to undergo apoptosis. In this paper we show that 50 microM curcumin by itself induces cell death in Jurkat cells, but its symptoms differ from those observed after a short ultraviolet (uv) irradiation. Ultraviolet-irradiated Jurkat cells displayed typical symptoms of apoptosis: morphological changes, internucleosomal and high-molecular-weight DNA fragmentation, formation of sub-G1 fractions in DNA content frequency histograms, and dissipation of the mitochondrial transmembrane electric potential (Delta psi). In contrast, curcumin-treated Jurkat cells exhibited DNA splitting into high-, but not low-, molecular-weight fragments. These cells retained their high mitochondrial Delta psi, and the content of Ca2+ in endoplasmic reticulum stores remained at the level typical for untreated cells. The frequency of opening of the mitochondrial permeability transition pores in curcumin-treated cells was decreased compared to the controls, whereas uv irradiation made these pores completely open. Curcumin did not produce any change in the activity of caspase-3, whereas uv irradiation considerably activated this protease. The morphology of curcumin-treated cells displayed chromatin condensation, which was insensitive to the caspase inhibitor z-VAD-fmk, but no formation of typical apoptotic bodies, as was the case after uv irradiation. In contrast to uv-irradiated cells, curcumin-treated Jurkat cells considerably increased the level of Bcl-2. It is concluded that the programmed cell death induced by curcumin in Jurkat cells differs from "classical" by the lack of mitochondrial depolarization and of the involvement of caspases.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspases / metabolism*
  • Cell Line, Transformed
  • Curcumin / pharmacology*
  • DNA Fragmentation / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Jurkat Cells
  • Mitochondria / drug effects*
  • Mitochondria / enzymology
  • Permeability
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / metabolism
  • T-Lymphocytes / cytology
  • T-Lymphocytes / drug effects*
  • T-Lymphocytes / enzymology*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • CASP3 protein, human
  • Casp3 protein, rat
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspases
  • Curcumin
  • Calcium