Curcumin-induced apoptosis in ovarian carcinoma cells is p53-independent and involves p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase activation and downregulation of Bcl-2 and survivin expression and Akt signaling

Jane L Watson, Anna Greenshields, Richard Hill, Ashley Hilchie, Patrick W Lee, Carman A Giacomantonio, David W Hoskin
Molecular Carcinogenesis 2010, 49 (1): 13-24
New cytotoxic agents are urgently needed for the treatment of advanced ovarian cancer because of the poor long-term response of this disease to conventional chemotherapy. Curcumin, obtained from the rhizome of Curcuma longa, has potent anticancer activity; however, the mechanism of curcumin-induced cytotoxicity in ovarian cancer cells remains a mystery. In this study we show that curcumin exhibited time- and dose-dependent cytotoxicity against monolayer cultures of ovarian carcinoma cell lines with differing p53 status (wild-type p53: HEY, OVCA429; mutant p53: OCC1; null p53: SKOV3). In addition, p53 knockdown or p53 inhibition did not diminish curcumin killing of HEY cells, confirming p53-independent cytotoxicity. Curcumin also killed OVCA429, and SKOV3 cells grown as multicellular spheroids. Nuclear condensation and fragmentation, as well as DNA fragmentation and poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase-1 cleavage in curcumin-treated HEY cells, indicated cell death by apoptosis. Procaspase-3, procaspase-8, and procaspase-9 cleavage, in addition to cytochrome c release and Bid cleavage into truncated Bid, revealed that curcumin activated both the extrinsic and intrinsic pathways of apoptosis. Bax expression was unchanged but Bcl-2, survivin, phosphorylated Akt (on serine 473), and total Akt were downregulated in curcumin-treated HEY cells. Curcumin also activated p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) without altering extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 activity. We conclude that p53-independent curcumin-induced apoptosis in ovarian carcinoma cells involves p38 MAPK activation, ablation of prosurvival Akt signaling, and reduced expression of the antiapoptotic proteins Bcl-2 and survivin. These data provide a mechanistic rationale for the potential use of curcumin in the treatment of ovarian cancer.

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