Pharmacological evidences for cytotoxic and antitumor properties of Boswellic acids from Boswellia serrata

J Ethnopharmacol. 2016 Sep 15:191:315-323. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2016.06.053. Epub 2016 Jun 21.


Ethnopharmacological relevance: Increasing research on traditional herbal medicines and their phytoconstituents has recognized their usefulness in complementary as adjuvant to chemotherapy in various types of cancers. The oleo-gum resin of Boswellia serrata tree is one such folk medicine, which has been traditionally used for religious, cosmetic as well as medical purposes since ages. The oleo-gum resin of the plant has been used in traditional medicine to treat variety of conditions including inflammatory diseases like arthritis, asthma, chronic pain, bowel conditions and many other diseases. This review presents an overview of scientific studies on cytotoxic and antitumor properties of B. serrata and its constituents.

Materials and methods: Literature search was carried out for activities of B. serrata and various isolated boswellic acids such as β-boswellic acid, 11-keto-β-boswellic acid and acetyl-11-keto-β-boswellic acid reported in various cancer types in vitro as well as in vivo.

Results: The triterpenoidal fraction of B. serrata (containing boswellic acids) is responsible for the cytotoxic and antitumor properties. Among the screened compounds, 3-O-acetyl-11-keto-β-boswellic acid has been found to be most promising cytotoxic molecule. The cytotoxic and antitumor effects are mainly due to induction of apoptosis through caspase activation, increased Bax expression, NF-κB down regulation and induction of poly (ADP)-ribose polymerase (PARP) cleavage.

Conclusions: Boswellic acids appear to be promising candidates for anticancer drug development in future. However, further in vivo studies are needed. Studies in combination with clinically used anticancer drugs and QSAR studies on individual boswellic acid also need to be carried out.

Keywords: Antitumor; Apoptosis; Boswellic Acid; Cytotoxic; Terpenoids.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / isolation & purification
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins / metabolism
  • Boswellia / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Phytotherapy
  • Plants, Medicinal
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Triterpenes / isolation & purification
  • Triterpenes / pharmacology*


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins
  • NF-kappa B
  • Triterpenes
  • boswellic acid