Suppressive effects of curcumin on milk production without inflammatory responses in lactating mammary epithelial cells

Phytomedicine. 2021 Jan:80:153360. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2020.153360. Epub 2020 Oct 1.


Background: Curcumin is a naturally occurring polyphenol found in Curcuma longa with multiple therapeutic properties, such as anti-inflammatory, wound healing and anti-cancer effects. Curcuma longa is also used as a galactagogue to improve milk production during lactation.

Purpose: To assess curcumin could have therapeutic potential for breastfeeding mothers, we investigated whether and how curcumin influences milk production in lactating mammary epithelial cells (MECs) at the cellular and molecular levels.

Methods: We prepared a lactating MEC culture model that produced milk components and formed less-permeable tight junctions (TJs) to investigate the molecular mechanism of curcumin on milk production, TJs, and inflammation in vitro.

Results: Curcumin downregulated milk production in lactation MECs concurrently with inactivation of lactogenesis-relating signaling (STAT5 and glucocorticoid receptor). The maintenance of a less-permeable TJ barrier was also confirmed, although the TJ protein claudin-4 increased. Curcumin inactivated NFκB and STAT3 signaling, which are closely involved in inflammatory responses in weaning and mastitis mammary glands. The expression levels of IL-1β and TNF-α were also decreased by curcumin treatment. Furthermore, curcumin blocked activation of inflammatory signaling by lipopolysaccharide treatment in MECs, similar to those in MECs that were treated with diclofenac sodium. The drastic phosphorylation of ERK was induced by curcumin treatment in the absence of EGF. U0126, an inhibitor of ERK phosphorylation, attenuated the adverse effects of curcumin on lactating MECs.

Conclusion: The results of the present study suggests that curcumin downregulates milk production via inactivation of STAT5 and GR signaling with concurrent suppression of inflammatory responses via STAT3 and NFκB signaling in MECs. These findings provide new insights into the role of curcumin as a mild suppressor of milk production without inflammatory damages in breastfeeding mothers.

Keywords: Curcumin; Inflammation; Mammary epithelial cell; Milk production; Tight junction.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caseins / metabolism
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Curcumin / adverse effects
  • Curcumin / pharmacology*
  • Epithelial Cells / drug effects*
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Female
  • Glucocorticoids / metabolism
  • Lactation / drug effects
  • Lactation / metabolism
  • Lipopolysaccharides / toxicity
  • Mammary Glands, Animal / cytology*
  • Mammary Glands, Animal / drug effects
  • Mammary Glands, Animal / metabolism
  • Mastitis / drug therapy
  • Mastitis / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred ICR
  • Milk / metabolism*
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism
  • STAT3 Transcription Factor / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Tight Junctions / drug effects


  • Caseins
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • NF-kappa B
  • STAT3 Transcription Factor
  • Stat3 protein, mouse
  • Curcumin