Curcumin and quercetin synergistically inhibit cancer cell proliferation in multiple cancer cells and modulate Wnt/β-catenin signaling and apoptotic pathways in A375 cells

Phytomedicine. 2019 Jan;52:117-128. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2018.09.224. Epub 2018 Sep 28.


Background: Traditional therapy using natural products, especially flavonoids and alkaloids have been in practice for a long time. Among flavonoids, curcumin, quercetin, berberine, and epigallocatechin have been studied in greater detail in terms of their anticancer and anti-inflammatory activities. Although many studies focused on the PI3K, MAP kinase and NF-κB pathways, a thorough investigation of modulation of players in the apoptotic and Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway by curcumin and quercetin has not been done. Also, only few studies have been carried out on curcumin and quercetin co-treatment studies.

Hypothesis/purpose: We hypothesized that the combination of natural products will have synergistic effects and the antiproliferative effect will be attenuated via apoptotic as well as Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathways.

Study design and methods: To test our hypothesis, we compared potency of natural anticancer agents in four cancer cell lines, A549, HCT116, MCF7, and A375 by MTT and colony proliferation assays and investigated mechanism of anticancer activities by analyzing players in apoptotic and Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathways in A375 cells treated with test agents individually or in combination.

Results: Epicatechins, up to 100 μM concentration, did not inhibit cancer cell proliferation, while curcumin inhibited proliferation in A549 and HCT116 cancer cell lines with an IC50 of 3 to 8.5 μM. Quercetin showed stronger inhibition of cell proliferation than berberine. Combination study with two most potent agents, curcumin and quercetin, in 4 cancer cell lines, suggested synergistic effect on cell proliferation with several fold decreases in IC50. Further investigation of the mechanism of action of curcumin and quercetin in melanoma cells, A375, suggested that inhibition of cell proliferation occurred through down-regulation of Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway proteins, DVL2, β-catenin, cyclin D1, Cox2, and Axin2. In addition, both curcumin and quercetin induced apoptosis by down-regulating BCL2 and inducing caspase 3/7 through PARP cleavage.

Conclusion: These results demonstrate that curcumin and quercetin inhibit cancer cell proliferation synergistically and Wnt/β-catenin signaling and apoptotic pathways are partly responsible for antiproliferative activities.

Keywords: Apoptosis; Caspase; Curcumin; Quercetin; Synergistic; Wnt signaling.

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Axin Protein / metabolism
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects*
  • Curcumin / pharmacology*
  • Cyclin D1 / metabolism
  • Cyclooxygenase 2 / metabolism
  • Down-Regulation
  • Humans
  • Quercetin / pharmacology*
  • Wnt Signaling Pathway / drug effects*
  • beta Catenin / metabolism


  • AXIN2 protein, human
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Axin Protein
  • CCND1 protein, human
  • CTNNB1 protein, human
  • beta Catenin
  • Cyclin D1
  • Quercetin
  • Cyclooxygenase 2
  • PTGS2 protein, human
  • Curcumin