Withania somnifera Induces Cytotoxic and Cytostatic Effects on Human T Leukemia Cells

Toxins (Basel). 2016 May 12;8(5):147. doi: 10.3390/toxins8050147.


Cancer chemotherapy is characterized by an elevated intrinsic toxicity and the development of drug resistance. Thus, there is a compelling need for new intervention strategies with an improved therapeutic profile. Immunogenic cell death (ICD) represents an innovative anticancer strategy where dying cancer cells release damage-associated molecular patterns promoting tumor-specific immune responses. The roots of Withania somnifera (W. somnifera) are used in the Indian traditional medicine for their anti-inflammatory, immunomodulating, neuroprotective, and anticancer activities. The present study is designed to explore the antileukemic activity of the dimethyl sulfoxide extract obtained from the roots of W. somnifera (WE). We studied its cytostatic and cytotoxic activity, its ability to induce ICD, and its genotoxic potential on a human T-lymphoblastoid cell line by using different flow cytometric assays. Our results show that WE has a significant cytotoxic and cytostatic potential, and induces ICD. Its proapoptotic mechanism involves intracellular Ca(2+) accumulation and the generation of reactive oxygen species. In our experimental conditions, the extract possesses a genotoxic potential. Since the use of Withania is suggested in different contexts including anti-infertility and osteoarthritis care, its genotoxicity should be carefully considered for an accurate assessment of its risk-benefit profile.

Keywords: Withania somnifera; apoptosis; cell cycle; genotoxicity; immunogenic cell death; leukemia; oxidative stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Calreticulin / metabolism
  • DNA Damage
  • HSP70 Heat-Shock Proteins / metabolism
  • HSP90 Heat-Shock Proteins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Jurkat Cells
  • Leukemia, T-Cell
  • Mutagens / pharmacology*
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology*
  • Plant Roots
  • Withania*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Calreticulin
  • HSP70 Heat-Shock Proteins
  • HSP90 Heat-Shock Proteins
  • Mutagens
  • Plant Extracts
  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • Calcium