Induction of apoptosis in human cancer cell lines by diospyrin, a plant-derived bisnaphthoquinonoid, and its synthetic derivatives

Cancer Lett. 2002 Dec 15;188(1-2):85-93. doi: 10.1016/s0304-3835(02)00494-9.


Diospyrin, a bisnaphthoquinonoid natural product, and three synthetic derivatives have been tested for their action in four human cancer cell lines: acute myeloblastic leukemia (HL-60), chronic myelogenic leukemia (K-562), breast adenocarcinoma (MCF-7) and cervical epithelial carcinoma (HeLa). In cells grown in appropriate media several derivatives elicited cytotoxicity as assessed by Trypan Blue dye exclusion, 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazoliumbromide reduction and DNA synthesis. Diethyl ether derivative (D7) was most effective in this regard while the parent compound diospyrin (D1) was least active (D7>D3>D2>D1). D7 was not cytotoxic toward normal human lymphocytes, suggesting its action is specific for tumor cells. On microscopic examination D7-treated cells exhibited characteristic morphological features of apoptosis, such as cell shrinkage and formation of apoptotic bodies. Fluorescent staining with propidium iodide revealed distinct chromatin condensation and nuclear fragmentation. The apoptotic index paralleled cytotoxic parameters, and fragmented DNA extracted free of genomic DNA displayed on gel electrophoresis a typical ladder pattern. D7-induced apoptosis was mediated via activation of caspase 3 and caspase 8.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspase 8
  • Caspase 9
  • Caspases / metabolism
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Diospyros / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Naphthoquinones / pharmacology*
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Plant Bark / chemistry
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured / drug effects
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured / metabolism
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured / pathology*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Naphthoquinones
  • CASP3 protein, human
  • CASP8 protein, human
  • CASP9 protein, human
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspase 8
  • Caspase 9
  • Caspases
  • diospyrin