Overview of the Anticancer Potential of the "King of Spices" Piper nigrum and Its Main Constituent Piperine

Toxins (Basel). 2020 Nov 26;12(12):747. doi: 10.3390/toxins12120747.


The main limits of current anticancer therapy are relapses, chemoresistance, and toxic effects resulting from its poor selectivity towards cancer cells that severely impair a patient's quality of life. Therefore, the discovery of new anticancer drugs remains an urgent challenge. Natural products represent an excellent opportunity due to their ability to target heterogenous populations of cancer cells and regulate several key pathways involved in cancer development, and their favorable toxicological profile. Piper nigrum is one of the most popular spices in the world, with growing fame as a source of bioactive molecules with pharmacological properties. The present review aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the anticancer potential of Piper nigrum and its major active constituents-not limited to the well-known piperine-whose undeniable anticancer properties have been reported for different cancer cell lines and animal models. Moreover, the chemosensitizing effects of Piper nigrum in association with traditional anticancer drugs are depicted and its toxicological profile is outlined. Despite the promising results, human studies are missing, which are crucial for supporting the efficacy and safety of Piper nigrum and its single components in cancer patients.

Keywords: Piper nigrum; anticancer mechanisms; cancer therapy; chemosensitization; in vitro studies; in vivo studies; piperine; toxicological profile.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alkaloids / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / pharmacology*
  • Benzodioxoles / pharmacology*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Dioxolanes / pharmacology
  • Drug Synergism
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Piper nigrum / chemistry*
  • Piperidines / pharmacology*
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology*
  • Polyunsaturated Alkamides / pharmacology*
  • Quality of Life
  • Rats
  • Seeds / chemistry


  • Alkaloids
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Benzodioxoles
  • Dioxolanes
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Piperidines
  • Plant Extracts
  • Polyunsaturated Alkamides
  • pellitorine
  • piperlonguminine
  • piperine