[Molecular mechanisms of parthenolide's action: Old drug with a new face]

Postepy Hig Med Dosw (Online). 2010 Mar 16;64:100-14.
[Article in Polish]


Parthenolide, a sesquiterpene lactone derived from the leaves of feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium), is considered a main bioactive component of this herb. Feverfew has been used orally or as an infusion for the treatment of migraine, arthritis, fever, and stomachache. Besides its anti-inflammatory and anti-migraine properties, parthenolide also shows anticancer activities in a variety of cell lines. It contains an alpha-methylene-gamma-lactone ring and an epoxide moiety which are able to interact with nucleophilic sites of biologically important molecules. Parthenolide modulates multiple targets, thereby contributing to its various in vitro and in vivo effects. Inhibition of NF-kappaB activity, constitutive in many types of cancers, via either interaction with IKK or more directly with the p65 subunit of NF-kappaB, is considered one of the main mechanisms of its action. In addition, inhibition of STAT and MAP kinase activities and the induction of sustained JNK activity as well as p53 activity via influencing MDM2 and HDAC1 levels lead to an increased susceptibility of cancer cells to chemo- and radiotherapy. At the epigenetic level, parthenolide reduces HDAC1 level and, by inhibiting DNMT2 activity, induces global hypomethylation of DNA, which can restore the expressions of some suppressor genes. Moreover, this compound reduces the cellular level of GSH in cancer cells, followed by ROS accumulation and apoptosis. A unique property of parthenolide is its ability to induce cell death mainly in cancer cells, while sparing healthy ones and it also protects normal cells from UVB and oxidative stress. More remarkably, it seems to have the potential to target some cancer stem cells. Its wide array of biological activity and low toxicity make parthenolide a very promising drug with multi-pharmacological potential, largely dependent on the cellular context.

Publication types

  • English Abstract
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / drug effects*
  • Sesquiterpenes / pharmacology*


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Sesquiterpenes
  • parthenolide