Curcumin reduces cytotoxicity of 5-Fluorouracil treatment in human breast cancer cells

J Med Food. 2015 Apr;18(4):497-502. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2013.0086. Epub 2014 Jan 29.


Antimetabolites have proven successful as therapeutics for advanced-stage breast cancers, but are often accompanied by severe side effects that can limit treatment regimens. 5-Fluorouracil (5-FU), an antimetabolite that inhibits cell proliferation, has served an important role in standard chemotherapy protocols for a variety of solid tumors. Although reasonable response rates have been reported for 5-FU, continued exploration is necessary to improve clinical outcomes and reduce cytotoxic side effects that are an inherent problem for chemotherapeutic interventions. Because of its diverse anticancer properties, we explored whether by combining the natural product curcumin with 5-FU, synergistic improvements in preventing breast cancer cell proliferation and/or provide protection against 5-FU-induced cytotoxicity could be achieved. Indeed both curcumin and 5-FU inhibit DNA synthesis in MDA-MB-231 cells using BrdU incorporation assays; however, combined treatment showed no synergistic improvement. We next established the cytotoxicity profile for 5-FU in MDA-MB-231 cells using a tetrazolium-based cell viability assay and obtained an LD50 value of 28 μM. When 5-FU incubations were repeated with the addition of curcumin, the LD50 value increased to 200-300 μM, representing a 7-10-fold protection by curcumin against 5-FU cytotoxicity. These findings suggest that the addition of curcumin as an adjuvant therapy during 5-FU treatment might enhance the chemotherapeutic effectiveness of 5-FU by protecting normal cells from reduced viability and thus permitting higher dosing or longer treatment times. This would be especially important to those individuals who are plagued with severe cytotoxicities and require frequent interruptions, or even early termination of their treatment regimens.

Keywords: 5-FU; 5-fluorouracil; MDA-MB-231; curcumin; cytotoxicity.

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Curcumin / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Fluorouracil / toxicity*
  • Humans


  • Curcumin
  • Fluorouracil