Biological activities and potential molecular targets of cucurbitacins: a focus on cancer

Anticancer Drugs. 2012 Sep;23(8):777-87. doi: 10.1097/CAD.0b013e3283541384.


Cucurbitacin and its derivatives (cucurbitacins) are a class of highly oxidized tetracyclic triterpenoids. They are widely distributed in the plant kingdom, where they act as heterologous chemical pheromones that protect plants from external biological insults. Their bioactivities first attracted attention in the 1960s. Documented data demonstrate that cucurbitacins possess strong pharmacological properties, such as antitumor, anti-inflammatory, and hepatoprotective effects, etc. Several molecular targets for cucurbitacins have been discovered, such as fibrous-actin, signal transducer and activator of transcription 3, cyclooxygenase-2, etc. The present study summarizes the achievements of the 50 years of research on cucurbitacins. The aim was to systematically analyze their bioactivities with an emphasis on their anticancer effects. Research and development has shed new insight into the beneficial properties of these compounds.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / pharmacology*
  • Cucurbitacins / pharmacology*
  • Drug Design
  • Humans
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / pathology


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Cucurbitacins