Emerging significance of flavonoids as P-glycoprotein inhibitors in cancer chemotherapy

J Pharm Pharm Sci. 2009;12(1):46-78. doi: 10.18433/j3rc77.


Chemotherapy forms the mainstay of cancer treatment particularly for patients who do not respond to local excision or radiation treatment. However, cancer treatment by drugs is seriously limited by P-glycoprotein (P-gp) associated multi-drug resistance (MDR) in various tumor cells. On the other hand, it is now widely recognized that P-gp also influences drug transport across various biological membranes. P-gp transporter is widely present in the luminal surface of enterocytes, biliary canalicular surface of hepatocytes, apical surface of proximal tubular cells of kidney, endothelial cells of blood brain barrier, etc. thus affecting absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion of xenobiotics. Clinical significance of above mentioned carrier is appreciated from the fact that more than fifty percent of existing anti-cancer drugs undergo inhibitable and saturable P-gp mediated efflux. Consequently, there is an increasing trend to optimize pharmacokinetics, enhance antitumour activity and reduce systemic toxicity of existing anti-cancer drugs by inhibiting P-gp mediated transport. Although a wide variety of P-gp inhibitors have been discovered, research efforts are underway to identify the most appropriate one. Flavonoids (polyphenolic herbal constituents) form the third generation, non-pharmaceutical category of P-gp inhibitors. The effects produced by some of these components are found to be comparable to those of well-known P-gp inhibitors verapamil and cyclosporine. Identification of effective P-gp modulator among herbal compounds have an added advantage of being safe, thereby making them ideal candidates for bioavailability enhancement, tissue-penetration (e.g. blood brain barrier (BBB)), decreasing biliary excretion and multi-drug resistance modulating agents. The dual effects, i.e. P-gp modulation and antitumor activity, of these herbal derivatives may synergistically act in cancer chemotherapy. This paper presents an overview of the investigations on the feasibility and application of flavonoids as P-gp modulators for improved efficacy of anti-cancer drugs like taxanes, anthracyclines, epipodophyllotoxins, camptothecins and vinca alkaloids. The review also focuses on flavonoid-drug interactions as well as the reversal activity of flavonoids useful against MDR. In addition, the experimental models which could be used for investigation on P-gp mediated efflux are also discussed.

MeSH terms

  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1 / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1 / chemistry
  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1 / metabolism
  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1 / physiology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Chemotherapy, Adjuvant
  • Drug Design
  • Drug Interactions*
  • Drug Resistance, Multiple / drug effects*
  • Flavonoids / pharmacology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Flavonoids