Betulin elicits anti-cancer effects in tumour primary cultures and cell lines in vitro

Basic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol. 2009 Dec;105(6):425-32. doi: 10.1111/j.1742-7843.2009.00471.x. Epub 2009 Oct 12.


Betulin is a pentacyclic triterpene found in many plant species, among others, in white birch bark. The aim of the study was in vitro characterization of the anticancer activity of betulin in a range of human tumour cell lines (neuroblastoma, rhabdomyosarcoma-medulloblastoma, glioma, thyroid, breast, lung and colon carcinoma, leukaemia and multiple myeloma), and in primary tumour cultures isolated from patients (ovarian carcinoma, cervical carcinoma and glioblastoma multiforme). In this study, we demonstrated a remarkable anti-proliferative effect of betulin in all tested tumour cell cultures. Neuroblastoma (SK-N-AS) and colon carcinoma (HT-29) were the most sensitive to the anti-proliferative effect of betulin. Furthermore, betulin altered tumour cells morphology, decreased their motility and induced apoptotic cell death. These findings demonstrate the anti-cancer potential of betulin and suggest that they may be applied as an adjunctive measure in cancer treatment.

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Movement / drug effects
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cell Shape / drug effects
  • Drug Screening Assays, Antitumor
  • Humans
  • Inhibitory Concentration 50
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Triterpenes / pharmacology*
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Triterpenes
  • betulin