Ursolic acid, a potential anticancer compound for breast cancer therapy

Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2018 Mar 4;58(4):568-574. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2016.1203755. Epub 2017 Oct 4.


There are growing interests in the health benefits associated with consumption of fruits and vegetables, especially for the prevention of cancer, cardiovascular, or other chronic diseases. Epidemiological studies and clinical trials suggest that these health benefits are strongly associated with phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables. Ursolic acid is a naturally synthesized pentacyclic triterpenoid, widely distributed in different fruits and vegetables. Current research suggested that ursolic acid and its derivatives exhibited anticancer activity, anti-inflammatory effects, and induction of apoptosis in several human cancer cells. In particular, ursolic acid inhibited breast cancer proliferation by inducing cell G1/G2 arrest and regulating the expression of key proteins in signal transduction pathways. In addition, ursolic acid induced apoptosis in human breast cancer cells through intrinsic and extrinsic apoptotic pathways. Ursolic acid was also determined to scavenge free radicals and have potent anti-inflammation activity. The purpose of this paper is to review recent literature on anticancer activity of ursolic acid and focus on its mechanisms of action.

Keywords: Ursolic acid; breast cancer; diet and cancer; fruits and vegetables; inflammation; phytochemicals.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / metabolism
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / therapeutic use
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Female
  • Fruit / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Phytochemicals / metabolism
  • Phytochemicals / pharmacology
  • Phytochemicals / therapeutic use
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Triterpenes / metabolism
  • Triterpenes / pharmacology*
  • Triterpenes / therapeutic use
  • Vegetables / chemistry


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Phytochemicals
  • Triterpenes
  • ursolic acid