Comparative Analysis of Pentacyclic Triterpenic Acid Compositions in Oleogum Resins of Different Boswellia Species and Their In Vitro Cytotoxicity against Treatment-Resistant Human Breast Cancer Cells

Molecules. 2019 Jun 7;24(11):2153. doi: 10.3390/molecules24112153.


Pentacyclic triterpenic acids from oleogum resins of Boswellia species are of considerable therapeutic interest. Yet, their pharmaceutical development is hampered by uncertainties regarding botanical identification and the complexity of triterpenic acid mixtures. Here, a highly sensitive, selective, and accurate method for the simultaneous quantification of eight boswellic and lupeolic acids by high-performance liquid chromatography with tandem mass spectrometry detection (HPLC-MS/MS) was developed. The method was applied to the comparative analysis of 41 oleogum resins of the species B. sacra, B. dalzielli, B. papyrifera, B. serrata, B. carterii, B. neglecta, B. rivae, B. frereana, and B. occulta. Multivariate statistical analysis of the data revealed differences in the triterpenic acid composition that could be assigned to distinct Boswellia species and to their geographic growth location. Extracts of the oleogum resins exhibited cytotoxicity against the human, treatment-resistant, metastatic breast cancer cell line MDA-MB-231. Extracts from B. sacra were the most potent ones with an average IC50 of 8.3 ± 0.6 µg/mL. The oleogum resin of the B. sacra was further fractionated to enrich different groups of substances. The cytotoxic efficacy against the cancer cells correlates positively with the contents of pentacyclic triterpenic acids in Boswellia extracts.

Keywords: Boswellia; Boswellia occulta; MDA-MB-231; boswellic acid; breast cancer; frankincense; lupeolic acid; pentacyclic triterpenic acid.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / analysis*
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / pharmacology
  • Boswellia / chemistry*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm / drug effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Pentacyclic Triterpenes / analysis*
  • Pentacyclic Triterpenes / pharmacology
  • Resins, Plant / analysis*
  • Resins, Plant / pharmacology
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry
  • Triterpenes / isolation & purification
  • Triterpenes / pharmacology


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Pentacyclic Triterpenes
  • Resins, Plant
  • Triterpenes
  • lupeolic acid
  • boswellic acid