Involvement of Bcl-2 family members, phosphatidylinositol 3'-kinase/AKT and mitochondrial p53 in curcumin (diferulolylmethane)-induced apoptosis in prostate cancer

Int J Oncol. 2007 Apr;30(4):905-18.


Curcumin (diferulolylmethane), an active ingredient derived from the rhizome of the plant Curcuma longa, has anticancer activity in vitro and in vivo. Although curcumin possesses chemopreventive properties against several types of cancer, the molecular mechanisms by which it inhibits cell growth and induces apoptosis are not clearly understood. Our data revealed that curcumin inhibited growth and induced apoptosis in androgen-dependent and -independent prostate cancer cells, but had no effect on normal human prostate epithelial cells. Curcumin downregulated the expression of Bcl-2, and Bcl-XL and upregulated the expression of p53, Bax, Bak, PUMA, Noxa, and Bim. Curcumin upregulated the expression of p53 as well as its phosphorylation at serine 15, and acetylation in a concentration-dependent manner. Acetylation of histone H3 and H4 was increased in cells treated with curcumin, suggesting histone modification may regulate gene expression. Treatment of LNCaP cells with curcumin resulted in translocation of Bax and p53 to mitochondria, production of reactive oxygen species, drop in mitochondrial membrane potential, release of mitochondrial proteins (cytochrome c, Smac/DIABLO and Omi/HtrA2), activation of caspase-3 and induction of apoptosis. Furthermore, curcumin inhibited expression of phosphatidyl-inositol-3 kinase (PI3K) p110 and p85 subunits, and phosphorylation of Ser 473 AKT/PKB. Downregulation of AKT by inhibitors of PI3K (Wortmannin and LY294002) and AKT, or by dominant negative AKT increased curcumin-induced apoptosis, whereas transfection of constitutively active AKT attenuated this effect. Similarly, wild-type phosphatase and tensin homolog deleted from chromosome 10 (PTEN) enhanced curcumin-induced apoptosis and, in contrast, inactive PTEN (G129E and G129R) inhibited curcumin-induced apoptosis. Overexpression of constitutively active AKT inhibited curcumin-induced p53 translocation to mitochondria, and Smac release to cytoplasm, whereas inhibition of AKT by dominant negative AKT enhanced curcumin-induced p53 translocation to mitochondria and Smac release. Our study establishes a role for AKT in modulating the direct action of p53 on the caspase-dependent mitochondrial death pathway and suggests that these important biological molecules interact at the level of the mitochondria to influence curcumin sensitivity. These properties of curcumin strongly suggest that it could be used as a cancer chemopreventive agent.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis
  • Caspase 1 / analysis
  • Caspase 1 / metabolism
  • Curcumin / pharmacology*
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mitochondria / drug effects
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • PTEN Phosphohydrolase / metabolism
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / metabolism*
  • Phosphoinositide-3 Kinase Inhibitors
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerases / analysis
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerases / metabolism
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / metabolism*
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism*
  • Up-Regulation


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Histones
  • Phosphoinositide-3 Kinase Inhibitors
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerases
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • PTEN Phosphohydrolase
  • Caspase 1
  • Curcumin