Research Papers:

Curcumin enhances the effects of irinotecan on colorectal cancer cells through the generation of reactive oxygen species and activation of the endoplasmic reticulum stress pathway

Yan-Feng Huang, Da-Jian Zhu _, Xiao-Wu Chen, Qi-Kang Chen, Zhen-Tao Luo, Chang-Chun Liu, Guo-Xin Wang, Wei-Jie Zhang and Nv-Zhu Liao

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Oncotarget. 2017; 8:40264-40275. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.16828

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Yan-Feng Huang1, Da-Jian Zhu2, Xiao-Wu Chen3, Qi-Kang Chen2, Zhen-Tao Luo3, Chang-Chun Liu3, Guo-Xin Wang3, Wei-Jie Zhang3 and Nv-Zhu Liao2

1Department of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Shunde Hospital of Southern Medical University, Guangdong 528300, China

2Department of Gastrointestinal Surgery, Shunde Women and Children’s Hospital Affiliated to Jinan University, Guangdong 528300, China

3Department of Gastrointestinal Surgery, Shunde Hospital of Southern Medical University, Guangdong 528300, China

Correspondence to:

Da-Jian Zhu, email: [email protected]

Keywords: curcumin, colorectal cancer, irinotecan, ROS, ER stress

Received: May 13, 2016     Accepted: February 27, 2017     Published: April 04, 2017


Although initially effective against metastatic colorectal cancer (CRC), irinotecan-based chemotherapy leads to resistance and adverse toxicity. Curcumin is well known for its anti-cancer effects in many cancers, including CRC. Here, we describe reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation and endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress as important mechanisms by which curcumin enhances irinotecan’s effects on CRC cells. CRC cell lines were treated with curcumin and/or irinotecan for 24 h, and then evaluated using cell proliferation assays, cell apoptosis assays, cell cycle analysis, intracellular Ca2+ measurements, ROS measurements and immunoblotting for key ER stress-related proteins. We found that cell viability was inhibited and apoptosis was increased, accompanied by ROS generation and ER stress activation in CRC cells treated with curcumin alone or in combination with irinotecan. Blocking ROS production attenuated the expression of two markers of ER stress: binding of immunoglobulin protein (BIP) and CCAAT/enhancer-binding protein homologous protein (CHOP). Blocking CHOP expression using RNA interference also inhibited ROS generation. These results demonstrated that curcumin could enhance the effects of irinotecan on CRC cells by inhibiting cell viability and inducing cell cycle arrest and apoptosis, and that these effects may be mediated, in part, by ROS generation and activation of the ER stress pathway.

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