Bee Venom Components as Therapeutic Tools against Prostate Cancer

Toxins (Basel). 2021 May 7;13(5):337. doi: 10.3390/toxins13050337.


Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers in men. Despite the development of a variety of therapeutic agents to treat either metastatic hormone-sensitive prostate cancer, advanced prostate cancer, or nonmetastatic/metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer, the progression or spread of the disease often cannot be avoided. Additionally, the development of resistance of prostate cancer cells to available therapeutic agents is a well-known problem. Despite extensive and cost-intensive research over decades, curative therapy for metastatic prostate cancer is still not available. Therefore, additional therapeutic agents are still needed. The animal kingdom offers a valuable source of natural substances used for the treatment of a variety of diseases. Bee venom of the honeybee is a mixture of many components. It contains proteins acting as enzymes such as phospholipase A2, smaller proteins and peptides such as melittin and apamin, phospholipids, and physiologically active amines such as histamine, dopamine, and noradrenaline. Melittin has been shown to induce apoptosis in different cancer cell lines, including prostate cancer cell lines. It also influences cell proliferation, angiogenesis, and necrosis as well as motility, migration, metastasis, and invasion of tumour cells. Hence, it represents an interesting anticancer agent. In this review article, studies about the effect of bee venom components on prostate cancer cells are discussed. An electronic literature research was performed utilising PubMed in February 2021. All scientific publications, which examine this interesting subject, are discussed. Furthermore, the different types of application of these promising substances are outlined. The studies clearly indicate that bee venom or melittin exhibited anticancer effects in various prostate cancer cell lines and in xenografts. In most of the studies, a combination of bee venom or the modified melittin with another molecule was utilised in order to avoid side effects and, additionally, to target selectively the prostate cancer cells or the surrounding tissue. The studies showed that systemic side effects and unwanted damage to healthy tissue and organs could be minimised when the anticancer drug was not activated until binding to the cancer cells or the surrounding tissue. Different targets were used, such as the matrix metalloproteinase 2, hormone receptors expressed by prostate cancer cells, the extracellular domain of PSMA, and the fibroblast activation protein occurring in the stroma of prostate cancer cells. Another approach used loaded phosphate micelles, which were cleaved by the enzyme secretory phospholipase A2 produced by prostate cancer cells. In a totally different approach, targeted nanoparticles containing the melittin gene were used for prostate cancer gene therapy. By the targeted nonviral gene delivery, the gene encoding melittin was delivered to the prostate cancer cells without systemic side effects. This review of the scientific literature reveals totally different approaches using bee venom, melittin, modified melittin, or protoxin as anticancer agents. The toxic agents acted through several different mechanisms to produce their anti-prostate cancer effects. These mechanisms are not fully understood yet and more experimental studies are necessary to reveal the complete mode of action. Nevertheless, the researchers have conducted pioneering work. Based on these results, further experimental and clinical studies about melittin and modifications of this interesting agent deriving from nature are necessary and could possibly lead to a complementary treatment option for prostate cancer.

Keywords: bee venom; melittin; prostate cancer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Antineoplastic Agents / chemistry
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Apamin / isolation & purification
  • Apamin / pharmacology
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Bee Venoms / administration & dosage
  • Bee Venoms / chemistry
  • Bee Venoms / pharmacology*
  • Bees
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Melitten / isolation & purification
  • Melitten / pharmacology
  • Phospholipases A2 / isolation & purification
  • Phospholipases A2 / pharmacology
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / pathology


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Bee Venoms
  • Melitten
  • Apamin
  • Phospholipases A2