In vitro and in vivo investigations on the antitumour activity of Chelidonium majus

Phytomedicine. 2015 Dec 15;22(14):1279-87. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2015.10.013. Epub 2015 Nov 10.


Background: Chelidonium majus L. (Papaveraceae) (greater celandine) is a medicinal herb that is widely spread in Europe. Antitumoural activity has been reported for C. majus extracts.

Hypothesis/purpose: To investigate the antitumour activity of a C. majus extract in vitro and in vivo.

Study design: Cytotoxic effects of C. majus extracts were evaluated on human cancer cell lines, i.e. PANC-1 (pancreas cancer), HT-29 (colon cancer), MDA-MB-231 (breast cancer), PC-EM005 and PC-EM002 (primary endometrium cancer cells), and PANC02 (murine pancreatic adenocarcinoma cells). A preliminary in vivo study was performed to evaluate the effect of a defatted C. majus extract and Ukrain(TM) in a highly metastatic murine pancreatic model.

Methods: Chelidonium majus L. herb containing 1.26% (dry weight) of total alkaloids expressed as chelidonine was used to prepare an 80% ethanolic extract (CM2). This crude extract was then defatted with n-hexane, resulting in a defatted C. majus extract (CM2B). Cytotoxic effects of the two extracts (CM2 and CM2B) were evaluated on human and murine cell lines in vitro. CM2B and Ukrain(TM) were evaluated in a highly metastatic murine pancreatic model.

Results: Four main benzylisoquinoline alkaloids were identified in CM2B, i.e. chelidonine, sanguinarine, chelerythrine and protopine, using HPLC-UV. CM2 showed a high cytotoxic activity against PANC-1 (IC50, 20.7 µg/ml) and HT-29 (IC50, 20.6 µg/ml), and a moderate cytotoxic activity against MDA-MB-231 (IC50, 73.9 µg/ml). CM2 as well as CM2B showed a moderate to high cytotoxic activity against the PANC02 cell line (IC50, 34.4 and 36.0 µg/ml). Low to almost no cytotoxic effect was observed on primary endometrium cancer cells PC-EM005, PC-EM002 and on normal fibroblast cells 3T3, when treated with CM2B. Significantly less metastases were counted in mice treated with 1.2 mg/kg CM2B, but not with 3.6 mg/kg Ukrain(TM), compared to the control group. The extract, however, did not affect the weight of the primary tumours.

Keywords: Chelidonium majus L.; Greater celandine; In vitro cytotoxicity; In vivo antitumor activity; Papaveraceae.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alkaloids / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / pharmacology*
  • Benzophenanthridines / pharmacology
  • Berberine Alkaloids / pharmacology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Chelidonium / chemistry*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inhibitory Concentration 50
  • Isoquinolines / pharmacology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neoplasm Transplantation
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology*
  • Plants, Medicinal / chemistry


  • Alkaloids
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Benzophenanthridines
  • Berberine Alkaloids
  • Isoquinolines
  • Plant Extracts
  • chelidonine
  • sanguinarine
  • chelerythrine
  • protopine