Usnic acid inhibits growth and induces cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in human lung carcinoma A549 cells

Nutr Cancer. 2013;65 Suppl 1:36-43. doi: 10.1080/01635581.2013.785007.


Usnic acid (UA) is a secondary metabolite abundantly found in lichens. Some studies have shown the anticancer potential of UA; however, its efficacy and associated mechanisms are yet to be fully explored. Herein, we assessed the anticancer potency and associated molecular alterations by UA in human lung carcinoma A549 cells. UA treatment (25-100 μM) for 24 and 48 h decreased total cell number by 39-67% (P < 0.01) and 68-89% (P < 0.001), respectively, and enhanced cell death by up to twofold and eightfold (P < 0.001), respectively. UA (1-10 μM) also significantly (P < 0.001) suppressed colony formation of A549 cells. The cell growth inhibition was associated with cell cycle arrest at G0/ G1 phase. UA decreased the expression of cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK)4, CDK6, and cyclin D1 and increased the expression of CDK inhibitor (CDKI) p21/cip1 protein. While examining the cell death associated molecular changes, we observed that UA induces mitochondrial membrane depolarization and led to more than twofold increase (P < 0.01) in apoptotic cells. The apoptotic effect of UA was accompanied by enhanced poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase cleavage. This study shows that UA inhibits cell growth involving G0/G1 phase cell cycle arrest and induces cell death via mitochondrial membrane depolarization and induction of apoptosis in human lung carcinoma cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Benzofurans / pharmacology*
  • Cell Cycle Checkpoints / drug effects*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cyclin D1 / genetics
  • Cyclin D1 / metabolism
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 4 / genetics
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 4 / metabolism
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 6 / genetics
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 6 / metabolism
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p21 / genetics
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p21 / metabolism
  • G1 Phase / drug effects
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans
  • Lichens / metabolism
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerases / genetics
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerases / metabolism


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Benzofurans
  • CCND1 protein, human
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p21
  • usnic acid
  • Cyclin D1
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerases
  • CDK4 protein, human
  • CDK6 protein, human
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 4
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 6