Discovery of bioactive molecules and elucidation of their molecular mechanisms open up an enormous opportunity for the development of improved therapy for different inflammatory diseases, including cancer. Triterpenoids isolated several decades ago from various medicinal plants now seem to have a prominent role in the prevention and therapy of a variety of ailments and some have already entered Phase I clinical trials. One such important and highly investigated pentacyclic triterpenoid, ursolic acid has attracted great attention of late for its potential as a chemopreventive and chemotherapeutic agent in various types of cancer. Ursolic acid has been shown to target multiple proinflammatory transcription factors, cell cycle proteins, growth factors, kinases, cytokines, chemokines, adhesion molecules, and inflammatory enzymes. These targets can potentially mediate the chemopreventive and therapeutic effects of ursolic acid by inhibiting the initiation, promotion and metastasis of cancer. This review not only summarizes the diverse molecular targets of ursolic acid, but also provides an insight into the various preclinical and clinical studies that have been performed in the last decade with this promising triterpenoid.
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