Vitamin C preferential toxicity for malignant melanoma cells

Nature. 1980 Apr 17;284(5757):629-31. doi: 10.1038/284629a0.


Vitamin C has been suggested and disputed as an anti-cancer agent. For cells in culture, no preferential effect against any type of cancer has yet been demonstrated. Our aim here is to show that vitamin C is selectively toxic to at least one type of malignant cell--a melanoma--at concentrations that might be attained in humans. Copper ions react with ascorbate and generate free radicals in solution. Ascorbate when combined with copper rapidly reduces the viscosity of DNA solutions and has exhibited some carcinostatic effects on transplanted sarcoma 180 tumours in mice. We reasoned that the elevated copper concentration in melanoma could result in a more selective toxicity for ascorbate.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents*
  • Ascorbic Acid / pharmacology*
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Cell Line
  • Copper / pharmacology
  • Cricetinae
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Synergism
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Melanoma / drug therapy*
  • Mice
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / drug therapy


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Copper
  • Ascorbic Acid