Activation of ATM/Chk1 by curcumin causes cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in human pancreatic cancer cells

Br J Cancer. 2009 May 5;100(9):1425-33. doi: 10.1038/sj.bjc.6605039.


Curcumin has been shown to inhibit the growth of various types of cancer cells; however, at concentrations much above the clinically achievable levels in humans. The concentration of curcumin achieved in the plasma after oral administration in humans was estimated to be around 1.8 microM. Here, we report that treatment of BxPC-3 human pancreatic cancer cells with a low and single exposure of 2.5 microM curcumin for 24 h causes significant arrest of cells in the G2/M phase and induces significant apoptosis. Immunoblot studies revealed increased phosphorylation of H2A.X at Ser-139 and Chk1 at Ser-280 and a decrease in DNA polymerase-beta level in curcumin-treated cells. Phosphorylation of H2A.X and Chk1 proteins are an indicator of DNA damage whereas DNA polymerase-beta plays a role in the repair of DNA strand breaks. Normal immortalised human pancreatic ductal epithelial (HPDE-6) cells remained unaffected by curcumin treatment. In addition, we also observed a significant increase in the phosphorylation of Chk1 at Ser-345, Cdc25C at Ser-216 and a subtle increase in ATM phosphorylation at Ser-1981. Concomitant decrease in the expressions of cyclin B1 and Cdk1 were seen in curcumin-treated cells. Further, curcumin treatment caused significant cleavage of caspase-3 and PARP in BxPC-3 but not in HPDE-6 cells. Silencing ATM/Chk1 expression by transfecting BxPC-3 cells with ATM or Chk1-specific SiRNA blocked the phosphorylation of ATM, Chk1 and Cdc25C and protected the cells from curcumin-mediated G2/M arrest and apoptosis. This study reflects the critical role of ATM/Chk1 in curcumin-mediated G2/M cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in pancreatic cancer cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated Proteins
  • Caspase 3 / drug effects
  • Caspase 3 / metabolism
  • Cell Cycle / drug effects
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / drug effects
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / genetics
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Checkpoint Kinase 1
  • Collagen Type XI / drug effects
  • Collagen Type XI / metabolism
  • Curcumin / pharmacology*
  • DNA Damage / drug effects
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / drug effects
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Enzymologic / drug effects
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • Gene Silencing / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / enzymology
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Protein Kinases / drug effects
  • Protein Kinases / genetics
  • Protein Kinases / metabolism*
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / drug effects
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Transfection
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins / drug effects
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins / genetics
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins / metabolism*


  • COL11A2 protein, human
  • Cell Cycle Proteins
  • Collagen Type XI
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins
  • Protein Kinases
  • ATM protein, human
  • Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated Proteins
  • CHEK1 protein, human
  • Checkpoint Kinase 1
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Caspase 3
  • Curcumin