Curcumin induces apoptotic cell death and protective autophagy by inhibiting AKT/mTOR/p70S6K pathway in human ovarian cancer cells

Arch Gynecol Obstet. 2019 Jun;299(6):1627-1639. doi: 10.1007/s00404-019-05058-3. Epub 2019 Apr 21.


Purpose: Curcumin (Cur), a yellow-colored dietary flavor from the plant (Curcuma longa), has been demonstrated to potentially resist diverse diseases, including ovarian cancer, but drug resistance becomes a major limitation of its success clinically. The key molecule or mechanism associated with curcumin resistance in ovarian cancer still remains unclear. The aim of our study was to investigate the effects of curcumin on autophagy in ovarian cancer cells and elucidate the underlying mechanism.

Methods: In our study, 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide (MTT), EdU proliferation assay and colony-forming assay were used to assess cell viability. Apoptosis was detected by western blot and flow cytometric analysis of apoptosis. Autophagy was defined by both electron microscopy and immunofluorescence staining markers such as microtubule-associated protein 1 light chain 3 (LC3). Plasmid construction and shRNA transfection helped us to confirm the function of curcumin.

Results: Curcumin reduced cell viability and induced apoptotic cell death by MTT assay in human ovarian cancer cell lines SK-OV-3 and A2780 significantly. Electron microscopy, western blot and immunofluorescence staining proved that curcumin could induce protective autophagy. Moreover, treatment with autophagy-specific inhibitors or stable knockdown of LC3B by shRNA could markedly enhance curcumin-induced apoptosis. Finally, the cells transiently transfected with AKT1 overexpression plasmid demonstrated that autophagy had a direct relationship with the AKT/mTOR/p70S6K pathway.

Conclusions: Curcumin can induce protective autophagy of human ovarian cancer cells by inhibiting the AKT/mTOR/p70S6K pathway, indicating the synergistic effects of curcumin and autophagy inhibition as a possible strategy to overcome the limits of current therapies in the eradication of epithelial ovarian cancer.

Keywords: AKT/mTOR/p70S6K; Apoptotic cell death; Autophagy; Curcumin; Ovarian cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Autophagy / drug effects*
  • Cell Death / drug effects*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Curcumin / pharmacology
  • Curcumin / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / metabolism*
  • Transfection


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • Curcumin