Curcumin suppresses gastric tumor cell growth via ROS-mediated DNA polymerase γ depletion disrupting cellular bioenergetics

J Exp Clin Cancer Res. 2017 Mar 31;36(1):47. doi: 10.1186/s13046-017-0513-5.


Background: Curcumin, as a pro-apoptotic agent, is extensively studied to inhibit tumor cell growth of various tumor types. Previous work has demonstrated that curcumin inhibits cancer cell growth by targeting multiple signaling transduction and cellular processes. However, the role of curcumin in regulating cellular bioenergetic processes remains largely unknown.

Methods: Western blotting and qRT-PCR were performed to analyze the protein and mRNA level of indicated molecules, respectively. RTCA, CCK-8 assay, nude mice xenograft assay, and in vivo bioluminescence imaging were used to visualize the effects of curcmin on gastric cancer cell growth in vitro and in vivo. Seahorse bioenergetics analyzer was used to investigate the alteration of oxygen consumption and aerobic glycolysis rate.

Results: Curcumin significantly inhibited gastric tumor cell growth, proliferation and colony formation. We further investigated the role of curcumin in regulating cellular redox homeostasis and demonstrated that curcumin initiated severe cellular apoptosis via disrupting mitochondrial homeostasis, thereby enhancing cellular oxidative stress in gastric cancer cells. Furthermore, curcumin dramatically decreased mtDNA content and DNA polymerase γ (POLG) which contributed to reduced mitochondrial oxygen consumption and aerobic glycolysis. We found that curcumin induced POLG depletion via ROS generation, and POLG knockdown also reduced oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) activity and cellular glycolytic rate which was partially rescued by ROS scavenger NAC, indiating POLG plays an important role in the treatment of gastric cancer. Data in the nude mice model verified that curcumin treatment significantly attenuated tumor growth in vivo. Finally, POLG was up-regulated in human gastric cancer tissues and primary gastric cancer cell growth was notably suppressed due to POLG deficiency.

Conclusions: Together, our data suggest a novel mechanism by which curcumin inhibited gastric tumor growth through excessive ROS generation, resulting in depletion of POLG and mtDNA, and the subsequent disruption of cellular bioenergetics.

Keywords: Cellular bioenergetics; Curcumin; Gastric cancer; POLG; ROS.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Curcumin / administration & dosage*
  • Curcumin / pharmacology
  • DNA Polymerase gamma / genetics*
  • DNA Polymerase gamma / metabolism*
  • Energy Metabolism / drug effects
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • Glycolysis / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Phosphorylation
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Stomach Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Stomach Neoplasms / genetics
  • Stomach Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Up-Regulation / drug effects
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • DNA Polymerase gamma
  • POLG protein, human
  • Curcumin