Rhubarb has been used as a traditional Chinese medicine since ancient times and today it is still present in various herbal preparations. In this review the toxicological and anti-neoplastic potentials of the main anthraquinones from Rhubarb, Rheum palmatum, will be highlighted. It is interesting to note that although the chemical structures of various anthraquinones in this plant are similar, their bioactivities are rather different. The most abundant anthraquinone of rhubarb, emodin, was capable of inhibiting cellular proliferation, induction of apoptosis, and prevention of metastasis. These capabilities are reported to act through tyrosine kinases, phosphoinositol 3-kinase (PI3K), protein kinase C (PKC), NF-kappa B (NF-kappaB), and mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling cascades. Aloe-emodin is another major component in rhubarb found to have anti-tumor properties. Its anti-proliferative property has been demonstrated to be through the p53 and its downstream p21 pathway. Our recent proteomic study also suggests that the molecular targets of these two anthraquinones are different. However, both components were found to be able to potentiate the anti-proliferation of various chemotherapeutic agents. Rhein is the other major rhubarb anthraquinone, although less well studied. This compound could effectively inhibit the uptake of glucose in tumor cells, caused changes in membrane-associated functions and led to cell death. Interestingly, all three major rhubarb anthraquinones were reported to have in vitro phototoxic. This re-evaluation of an old remedy suggests that several bioactive anthraquinones of rhubarb possess promising anti-cancer properties and could have a broad therapeutic potential.
(c) 2006 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.