Cytotoxic and cytoprotective activities of curcumin. Effects on paracetamol-induced cytotoxicity, lipid peroxidation and glutathione depletion in rat hepatocytes

Biochem Pharmacol. 1990 Jun 15;39(12):1869-75. doi: 10.1016/0006-2952(90)90603-i.


The cytoprotective effect of curcumin, a natural constituent of Curcuma longa, on the cytotoxicity of paracetamol in rat hepatocytes was studied. Paracetamol was selected as a model-toxin, since it is known to be bioactivated by 3-methylcholanthrene inducible cytochromes P450 presumably to N-acetyl-p-benzoquinone imine (NAPQI), a reactive metabolite which upon overdosage causes protein- and non-protein thiol-depletion, lipid peroxidation and cytotoxicity measured as LDH-leakage. At low concentrations curcumin was found to protect significantly against paracetamol-induced lipid peroxidation, without protection against paracetamol-induced LDH-leakage and without protection against paracetamol-induced GSH-depletion. At a 100 times higher concentration of curcumin the observed protective effect on lipid peroxidation was accompanied with a tendency to increase cellular GSH-depletion and LDH-leakage. No time-dependency was found as to the curcumin-induced effects: treatment of the hepatocytes 1 hr before, concomitantly or 1 hr after the addition of paracetamol to the cells had similar effects. In contrast to what was expected on the basis of previous in vivo experiments, at higher concentrations curcumin itself was found to be slightly cytotoxic. Curcumin-induced LDH-leakage was accompanied by a significant depletion of GSH. It has been concluded that the observed cytoprotective and cytotoxic activities of curcumin may be explained by a strong anti-oxidant capacity of curcumin and the capability of curcumin to conjugate with GSH. Furthermore, it has been concluded that lipid peroxidation is not playing a causal role in cell-death induced by paracetamol or by curcumin.

MeSH terms

  • Acetaminophen / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Acetaminophen / toxicity
  • Animals
  • Catechols / therapeutic use*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Curcumin / adverse effects
  • Curcumin / therapeutic use*
  • Glutathione / deficiency
  • L-Lactate Dehydrogenase / metabolism
  • Lipid Peroxidation / drug effects*
  • Liver / drug effects*
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Male
  • Methylcholanthrene / toxicity
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains


  • Catechols
  • Acetaminophen
  • Methylcholanthrene
  • L-Lactate Dehydrogenase
  • Glutathione
  • Curcumin