The role of cancer stem cells in the anti-carcinogenicity of curcumin

Mol Nutr Food Res. 2013 Sep;57(9):1630-7. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201300120. Epub 2013 Jul 31.


Many cancers contain cell subpopulations that display characteristics of stem cells. These cells are characterised by their ability to self-renew, form differentiated progeny and develop resistance to chemotherapeutic strategies. Cancer stem cells may utilise many of the same signalling pathways as normal stem cells including Wnt, Notch and Hedgehog. The dietary agent curcumin exerts a plethora of anti-carcinogenic effects both in vitro and in vivo, and can also inhibit many of the signalling pathways associated with stem cell biology. Emerging evidence suggests that curcumin can exert its anti-carcinogenic activity via targeting cancer stem cells through the disruption of stem cell signalling pathways. In this review we summarise the ability of curcumin to interfere with signalling pathways Wnt, Hedgehog, Notch, Signal Transducers and Activator (STAT) and interleukin-8, and report curcumin-induced changes in function and properties of cancer stem cells. We present evidence that the effects of curcumin on cancer stem cells mediate, or contribute to, its anti-carcinogenic activity.

Keywords: Cancer chemoprevention; Cancer stem cell; Carcinogenesis; Curcumin; Dietary agent.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Curcumin / pharmacology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Hedgehog Proteins / genetics
  • Hedgehog Proteins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-8 / metabolism
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / drug effects*
  • Receptors, Notch / genetics
  • Receptors, Notch / metabolism
  • STAT Transcription Factors / genetics
  • STAT Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Wnt Proteins / genetics
  • Wnt Proteins / metabolism


  • Anticarcinogenic Agents
  • Hedgehog Proteins
  • Interleukin-8
  • Receptors, Notch
  • STAT Transcription Factors
  • Wnt Proteins
  • Curcumin