Anticancer activity of an ultrasonic nanoemulsion formulation of Nigella sativa L. essential oil on human breast cancer cells

Ultrason Sonochem. 2016 Jul;31:449-55. doi: 10.1016/j.ultsonch.2016.01.035. Epub 2016 Jan 29.


Nigella sativa L. (NS) is a plant renowned in traditional holistic medicine systems for almost 1400 years because of its remarkable antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. The essential oil of N. sativa, in particular, possesses these significant biological properties. However, N. sativa essential oil has many insoluble constituents with properties that have not been fully explored. Nanoemulsion-based insoluble formulations are a widely used carrier system for lipophilic materials. In the present study, we used ultrasonic emulsification, polysorbate 80 and water to formulate a highly stable N. sativa essential oil nanoemulsion (NSEO-NE). To optimize the NSEO-NE preparation, we changed the surfactant concentration, the oil-surfactant mixing ratio and the emulsification time. The droplet size distribution and morphology of the prepared NE was analyzed using dynamic light scattering and scanning electron microscopy, respectively. The droplet size of the NSEO-NE was approximately 20-50 nm in diameter. The anticancer properties of the NE preparation were studied using a modified methyl-thiazolyl-diphenyl tetrazolium bromide (MTT) assay as well as cellular uptake and nuclear morphological analyses. The NSEO-NE significantly reduced the viability of Michigan Cancer Foundation-7 (MCF-7) breast cancer cells. The nucleo-cytoplasmic morphological features of NSEO-NE-treated cells included cell membrane blebbing, cytoplasmic vacuolation, marginalization of chromatin, and fragmentation of the nucleus. The results clearly indicate that NSEO-NE induced apoptosis in MCF-7 cells. These findings support the potential application of NSEO-NE in breast cancer therapy, and also merit future translational research.

Keywords: Anti-cancer; Apoptosis; Nanoemulsion; Nigella sativa; Ultrasonication.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Emulsions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Nanotechnology*
  • Nigella sativa / chemistry*
  • Oils, Volatile / pharmacology*
  • Ultrasonics*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Emulsions
  • Oils, Volatile