Curcumin interacts directly with the Cysteine 259 residue of STAT3 and induces apoptosis in H-Ras transformed human mammary epithelial cells

Sci Rep. 2018 Apr 23;8(1):6409. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-23840-2.


Signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3) is a transcription factor that is latent but constitutively activated in many types of cancers. It is well known that STAT3 plays a key role in inflammation-associated tumorigenesis. Curcumin is an anti-inflammatory natural compound isolated from the turmeric (Curcuma longa L., Zingiberaceae) that has been extensively used in a traditional medicine over the centuries. In the present study, we have found that curcumin inhibits STAT3 signaling that is persistently overactivated in H-Ras transformed breast epithelial cells (H-Ras MCF10A). Specific cysteine residues present in STAT3 appear to be critical for the activity as well as conformation of this transcription factor. We identified the cysteine residue 259 of STAT3 as a putative site for curcumin binding. Site-directed mutation of this cysteine residue abolished curcumin-induced inactivation of STAT3 and apoptosis in H-Ras MCF10A cells. The α,β-unsaturated carbonyl moiety of curcumin appears to be essential in its binding to STAT3 in H-Ras MCF10A cells. Tetrahydrocurcumin that lacks such electrophilic moiety failed to interact with STAT3 and to induce apoptosis in the same cell line. Taken together, our findings suggest that curcumin can abrogate aberrant activation of STAT3 through direct interaction, thereby inhibiting STAT3-mediated mammary carcinogenesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Cell Line, Transformed
  • Curcumin / analogs & derivatives
  • Curcumin / metabolism*
  • Curcumin / pharmacology*
  • Cysteine / metabolism*
  • DNA / metabolism
  • Dimerization
  • Genes, ras*
  • Humans
  • Mammary Glands, Human / drug effects*
  • Mammary Glands, Human / pathology
  • STAT3 Transcription Factor / chemistry
  • STAT3 Transcription Factor / metabolism*
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds / metabolism
  • Transcription, Genetic


  • STAT3 Transcription Factor
  • STAT3 protein, human
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds
  • tetrahydrocurcumin
  • DNA
  • Curcumin
  • Cysteine