Thymoquinone is an active ingredient isolated from Nigella sativa and has been investigated for its anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anticancer activities in both in vitro and in vivo models since its first extraction in 1960s. Its anti-oxidant/anti-inflammatory effect has been reported in various disease models, including encephalomyelitis, diabetes, asthma and carcinogenesis. Moreover, thymoquinone could act as a free radical and superoxide radical scavenger, as well as preserving the activity of various anti-oxidant enzymes such as catalase, glutathione peroxidase and glutathione-S-transferase. The anticancer effect(s) of thymoquinone are mediated through different modes of action, including anti-proliferation, apoptosis induction, cell cycle arrest, ROS generation and anti-metastasis/anti-angiogenesis. In addition, this quinone was found to exhibit anticancer activity through the modulation of multiple molecular targets, including p53, p73, PTEN, STAT3, PPAR-γ, activation of caspases and generation of ROS. The anti-tumor effects of thymoquinone have also been investigated in tumor xenograft mice models for colon, prostate, pancreatic and lung cancer. The combination of thymoquinone and conventional chemotherapeutic drugs could produce greater therapeutic effect as well as reduce the toxicity of the latter. In this review, we summarize the anti-oxidant/anti-inflammatory and anticancer effects of thymoquinone with a focus on its molecular targets, and its possible role in the treatment of inflammatory diseases and cancer.
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