A transcriptomic analysis of turmeric: Curcumin represses the expression of cholesterol biosynthetic genes and synergizes with simvastatin

Pharmacol Res. 2018 Jun:132:176-187. doi: 10.1016/j.phrs.2018.01.023. Epub 2018 Feb 3.


The spice turmeric (Curcuma longa L.) has a long history of use as an anti-inflammatory agent. The active component curcumin induces a variety of diverse biological effects and forms a series of degradation and metabolic products in vivo. Our hypothesis is that the field of toxicogenomics provides tools that can be used to characterize the mode of action and toxicity of turmeric components and to predict turmeric-drug interactions. Male Sprague-Dawley rats were treated for 4 days with turmeric root containing about 3% curcumin (comparable to what people consume in the fresh or dried root) or a fraction of turmeric enriched for curcumin (∼74%) and liver tissue collected for gene expression analysis. Two doses of each agent were added to the diet, corresponding to 540 and 2700 mg/kg body weight/day of turmeric. The transcriptomic effects of turmeric on rat liver tissue were examined using 3 programs, ToxFx Analysis Suite, in the context of a large drug database, Ingenuity Pathway and NextBio analyses. ToxFx analysis indicates that turmeric containing about 3% or 74% curcumin represses the expression of cholesterol biosynthetic genes. The dose of 400 mg/kg b.w./day curcumin induced the Drug Signature associated with hepatic inflammatory infiltrate. Ingenuity analysis confirmed that all 4 turmeric treatments had a significant effect on cholesterol biosynthesis, specifically the Cholesterol biosynthesis superpathway and Cholesterol biosynthesis 1 and 2. Among the top 10 up or downregulated genes, all 4 treatments downregulated PDK4; while 3 treatments downregulated ANGPTL4 or FASN. These findings suggest curcumin may enhance the anticancer effects of certain classes of statins, which we confirmed with biological assays. Given this enhancement, lower levels of statins may be required, and even be desirable. Our findings also warn of possible safety issues, such as potential inflammatory liver effects, for patients who ingest a combination of certain classes of statins and curcumin. Transcriptomic analysis suggests that turmeric is worthwhile to study to prevent and treat cancer and lipid disorders. Our approach lays new groundwork for studies of the mode of action and safety of herbal medicines and can also be used to develop a methodology to standardize herbal medicines.

Keywords: Cholesterol; Curcuma longa; Curcumin; Curcumin (PubChem CID: 969516); Simvastatin; Simvastatin (PubChem CID: 54454); Turmeric; Zingiberaceae.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anticholesteremic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cholesterol / metabolism*
  • Curcuma*
  • Curcumin / pharmacology*
  • Drug Synergism
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Plant Preparations / pharmacology*
  • Plant Roots
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Simvastatin / pharmacology*
  • Transcriptome / drug effects*


  • Anticholesteremic Agents
  • Plant Preparations
  • Cholesterol
  • Simvastatin
  • Curcumin