Research Papers:

Piperlongumine selectively kills cancer cells and increases cisplatin antitumor activity in head and neck cancer

Jong-Lyel Roh _, Eun Hye Kim, Jin Young Park, Ji Won Kim, Minsu Kwon and Byung-Heon Lee

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Oncotarget. 2014; 5:9227-9238. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.2402

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Jong-Lyel Roh1, Eun Hye Kim1, Jin Young Park1, Ji Won Kim1, Minsu Kwon1 and Byung-Heon Lee2

1 Department of Otolaryngology, Asan Medical Center, University of Ulsan College of Medicine, Seoul, Republic of Korea

2 Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, School of Medicine, Kyungpook National University, Daegu, Republic of Korea


Jong-Lyel Roh, email:

Keywords: piperlongumine, reactive oxygen species, head and neck cancer, cisplatin, cell death

Received: June 06, 2014 Accepted: August 26, 2014 Published: August 27, 2014


Adaptation to cellular stress is not a vital function of normal cells but is required of cancer cells, and as such might be a sensible target in cancer therapy. Piperlongumine is a naturally occurring small molecule selectively toxic to cancer cells. This study assesses the cytotoxicity of piperlongumine and its combination with cisplatin in head-and-neck cancer (HNC) cells in vitro and in vivo. The effect of piperlongumine, alone and in combination with cisplatin, was assessed in human HNC cells and normal cells by measuring growth, death, cell cycle progression, reactive oxygen species (ROS) production, and protein expression, and in tumor xenograft mouse models.

Piperlongumine killed HNC cells regardless of p53 mutational status but spared normal cells. It increased ROS accumulation in HNC cells, an effect that can be blocked by the antioxidant N-acetyl-L-cysteine. Piperlongumine induced selective cell death in HNC cells by targeting the stress response to ROS, leading to the induction of death pathways involving JNK and PARP. Piperlongumine increased cisplatin-induced cytotoxicity in HNC cells in a synergistic manner in vitro and in vivo. Piperlongumine might be a promising small molecule with which to selectively kill HNC cells and increase cisplatin antitumor activity by targeting the oxidative stress response.

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