Repurposing L-Menthol for Systems Medicine and Cancer Therapeutics? L-Menthol Induces Apoptosis through Caspase 10 and by Suppressing HSP90

OMICS. 2016 Jan;20(1):53-64. doi: 10.1089/omi.2015.0118.


The objective of the present study was to repurpose L-menthol, which is frequently used in oral health and topical formulations, for cancer therapeutics. In this article, we argue that monoterpenes such as L-menthol might offer veritable potentials in systems medicine, for example, as cheaper anti-cancer compounds. Other monoterpenes such as limonene, perillyl alcohol, and geraniol have been shown to induce apoptosis in various cancer cell lines, but their mechanisms of action are yet to be completely elucidated. Earlier, we showed that L-menthol modulates tubulin polymerization and apoptosis to inhibit cancer cell proliferation. In the present report, we used an apoptosis-related gene microarray in conjunction with proteomics analyses, as well as in silico interpretations, to study gene expression modulation in human adenocarcinoma Caco-2 cell line in response to L-menthol treatment. The microarray analysis identified caspase 10 as the important initiator caspase, instead of caspase 8. The proteomics analyses showed downregulation of HSP90 protein (also corroborated by its low transcript abundance), which in turn indicated inhibition of AKT-mediated survival pathway, release of pro-apoptotic factor BAD from BAD and BCLxL complex, besides regulation of other factors related to apoptosis. Based on the combined microarray, proteomics, and in silico data, a signaling pathway for L-menthol-induced apoptosis is being presented for the first time here. These data and literature analysis have significant implications for "repurposing" L-menthol beyond oral medicine, and in understanding the mode of action of plant-derived monoterpenes towards development of cheaper anticancer drugs in future.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Caspase 10 / metabolism*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • HSP90 Heat-Shock Proteins / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Menthol / pharmacology*
  • Systems Analysis


  • HSP90 Heat-Shock Proteins
  • Menthol
  • Caspase 10