Curcumin sensitizes human lung cancer cells to apoptosis and metastasis synergistically combined with carboplatin

Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2015 Nov;240(11):1416-25. doi: 10.1177/1535370215571881. Epub 2015 Feb 25.


Although carboplatin is one of the standard chemotherapeutic agents for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), it has limited therapeutic efficacy due to activation of a survival signaling pathway and the induction of multidrug resistance. Curcumin, a natural compound isolated from the plant Curcuma longa, is known to sensitize tumors to different chemotherapeutic agents. The aim of this study is to evaluate whether curcumin can chemosensitize lung cancer cells to carboplatin and to analyze the signaling pathway underlying this synergism. We investigated the synergistic effect of both agents on cell proliferation, apoptosis, invasion, migration, and expression of related signaling proteins using the human NSCLC cell line, A549. A549 cell was treated with different concentrations of curcumin and carboplatin alone and in combination. Combined treatment with curcumin and carboplatin inhibited tumor cell growth, migration, and invasion compared with either drug alone. Matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-2 and MMP-9 were more efficiently downregulated by co-treatment than by each treatment alone. mRNA and protein expression of caspase-3 and caspase-9 and proapoptotic genes was increased in cells treated with a combination of curcumin and carboplatin, whereas expression of the antiapoptotic Bcl-2 gene was suppressed. Co-treatment of both agents substantially suppressed NF-κB activation and increased expression of p53. Phosphorylation of Akt, a protein upstream of NF-κB, was reduced, resulting in inhibition of the degradation of inhibitor of κB(IκBα), whereas the activity of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK1/2) was enhanced. Our study demonstrated that the synergistic antitumor activity of curcumin combined with carboplatin is mediated by multiple mechanisms involving suppression of NF-κB via inhibition of the Akt/IKKα pathway and enhanced ERK1/2 activity. Based on this mechanism, curcumin has potential as a chemosensitizer for carboplatin in the treatment of patients with NSCLC.

Keywords: Curcumin; carboplatin; lung neoplasm; proliferation; synergism.

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Apoptosis*
  • Carboplatin / administration & dosage*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / pathology*
  • Caspase 3 / metabolism
  • Caspase 9 / metabolism
  • Cell Line, Tumor / drug effects
  • Cell Movement
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cell Survival
  • Curcumin / administration & dosage*
  • Drug Screening Assays, Antitumor
  • Drug Synergism
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 2 / metabolism
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 9 / metabolism
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Phosphorylation
  • Wound Healing


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Carboplatin
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases
  • CASP3 protein, human
  • CASP9 protein, human
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspase 9
  • MMP2 protein, human
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 2
  • MMP9 protein, human
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 9
  • Curcumin