Crocin from Crocus sativus possesses significant anti-proliferation effects on human colorectal cancer cells

Exp Oncol. 2007 Sep;29(3):175-80.


Aim: To investigate the anti-proliferative effects of Crocus sativus extract and its major constituent, crocin, on three colorectal cancer cell lines (HCT-116, SW-480, and HT-29). The cell growth inhibition effect was compared to that of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cells. In addition, Crocus sativus' effect on non-cancer cells was evaluated.

Methods: Using high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), the purity of crocin and the content of crocin extract were determined. Anti-proliferative effects of Crocus sativus extract and crocin on test cells was evaluated by MTS assay.

Results: The purity of crocin was found to be 95.9% and the content of crocin in the extract was 22.9%. Significant concentration-related inhibition effects of the extract on all three colorectal cancer cell lines were observed (P<0.01). The proliferation was reduced most significantly in HCT-116 cells, to 45.5% at 1.0 mg/ml and to 6.8% at 3.0 mg/ml. Crocin at 1.0 mM, significantly reduced HCT-116, SW-480, and HT-29 cell proliferation to 2.8%, 52%, and 16.8%, respectively (P<0.01). Since 3.0 mg/ml Crocus sativus extract contained approximately 0.6 mM crocin, the observed effects suggest that crocin is a major responsible constituent in the extract. Significant anti-proliferative effects were also observed in non-small cell lung cancer cells. However, Crocus sativus extract did not significantly affect the growth of non-cancer young adult mouse colon cells.

Conclusion: Data from this study demonstrated that Crocus sativus extract and its major constituent, crocin, significantly inhibited the growth of colorectal cancer cells while not affecting normal cells. Crocus sativus extract should be investigated further as a viable option in the treatment of colorectal cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / metabolism
  • Carotenoids / pharmacology*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects*
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Crocus / chemistry
  • Drug Screening Assays, Antitumor
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Mucosa / drug effects*
  • Lung Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology*


  • Plant Extracts
  • Carotenoids
  • crocin