Aqueous extract of Tribulus terrestris Linn induces cell growth arrest and apoptosis by down-regulating NF-κB signaling in liver cancer cells

J Ethnopharmacol. 2011 Jun 14;136(1):197-203. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2011.04.060. Epub 2011 Apr 28.


Ethnopharmacological relevance: A medicinal herb Tribulus terrestris Linn has been used to treat various diseases including hepatocellular carcinoma. The aim of the present study was to investigate the anticancer activity of Tribulus terrestris Linn (TT) in liver cancer cells.

Materials and methods: The antitumor activity of aqueous TT extract was analyzed by testing the cytotoxicity and the effect on clonogenecity in HepG2 cells. Apoptosis and cell cycle arrest induced by TT were dissected by flow cytometry and its inhibitory effect on NF-κB activity was determined by analyzing the expression levels of NF-κB/IκB subunit proteins. The suppression of NF-κB-regulated gene expression by TT was assessed by RT-PCR.

Results: TT extract repressed clonogenecity and proliferation, induced apoptosis, and enhanced accumulation in the G0/G1 phase of liver cancer cells. It also turned out that TT extract inhibited NF-κB-dependent reporter gene expression and NF-κB subunit p50 expression, while it enhanced the cellular level of IκBα by inhibiting the phosphorylation and degradation of IκBα. In addition, IKK activity was inhibited in a dose-dependent manner. Furthermore, TT extract suppressed the transcription of genes associated with cell cycle regulation, anti-apoptosis, and invasion.

Conclusion: These data showed that TT extract blocks proliferation and induces apoptosis in human liver cancer cells through the inhibition of NF-κB signaling. Aqueous TT extract can be used as an anticancer drug for hepatocellular carcinoma patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / therapeutic use*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Cell Cycle / drug effects
  • Cell Cycle / genetics
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Down-Regulation
  • Gene Expression
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Hep G2 Cells
  • Hepatoblastoma / drug therapy*
  • Hepatoblastoma / genetics
  • Hepatoblastoma / metabolism
  • Humans
  • I-kappa B Kinase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • I-kappa B Proteins / metabolism
  • Liver Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Liver Neoplasms / genetics
  • Liver Neoplasms / metabolism
  • NF-KappaB Inhibitor alpha
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism*
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Phosphorylation
  • Phytotherapy
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology
  • Plant Extracts / therapeutic use*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Tribulus*
  • Tumor Stem Cell Assay


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • I-kappa B Proteins
  • NF-kappa B
  • NFKBIA protein, human
  • Plant Extracts
  • NF-KappaB Inhibitor alpha
  • I-kappa B Kinase