Essential oils are complex mixtures of odorous and volatile compounds derived from secondary plant metabolism. They can be isolated from many plants by mechanical pressing or hydro- and steam-distillation and are known to induce a wide range of biological effects through their antibacterial, antifungal, cytotoxic, antioxidant and antimutagenic activities. In order to explore their beneficial properties on human skin cells, we investigated the effects of an essential oil from rosewood Aniba rosaeodora (REO) on the human epidermoid carcinoma cell line A431, on immortal HaCaT cells thought to represent an early stage of skin carcinogenesis, on transformed normal HEK001 keratinocytes and on primary normal NHEK keratinocytes. In a defined range of concentrations, REO selectively killed A431 and HaCaT cells. The same treatments had only a minor cytotoxic effect on HEK001 and NHEK cells. Preferentially in A431 and HaCaT cells, REO triggered the production of reactive oxygen species, induced depolarization of the mitochondrial membrane and caused caspase-dependent cell death characterized by phosphatidylserine externalization, an early marker of apoptosis. Both intrinsic and extrinsic apoptotic pathways were implicated in REO-induced cell death. The identification of selective induction of apoptosis in precancerous and cancerous skin cells by REO highlights the potential anticancer activity of this essential oil.
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