Curcumin (diferuloyl methane), the yellow pigment in turmeric (Curcuma longa), is a potent chemopreventive agent that inhibits proliferation of cancer cells by arresting them at various phases of the cell cycle depending upon the cell type. Curcumin-induced apoptosis mainly involves the mitochondria-mediated pathway in various cancer cells of different tissues of origin. In some cell types like thymocytes, curcumin induces apoptosis-like changes whereas in many other normal and primary cells curcumin is either inactive or inhibits proliferation, but does not appear to induce apoptosis. These together with reports that curcumin protects cells against apoptosis induced by other agents, underscore the need for further understanding of the multiple mechanisms of cell death unleashed by curcumin. Tumor cells often evade apoptosis by expressing several antiapoptotic proteins, down-regulation and mutation of proapoptotic genes and alterations in signaling pathways that give them survival advantage and thereby allow them to resist therapy-induced apoptosis. Many researchers including ourselves, have demonstrated the involvement of several pro and antiapoptotic molecules in curcumin-induced apoptosis, and ways to sensitize chemoresistant cancer cells to curcumin treatment. This review describes the mechanisms of curcumin-induced apoptosis currently known, and suggests several potential strategies that include down-regulation of antiapoptotic proteins by antisense oligonucleotides, use of proapoptotic peptides and combination therapy, and other novel approaches against chemoresistant tumors. Several factors including pharmacological safety, scope for improvement of structure and function of curcumin and its ability to attack multiple targets are in favor of curcumin being developed as a drug for prevention and therapy of various cancers.
Keywords: apoptosis, curcumin, bcl-2, hsp 70, bcl-xl, ku70, antisense, cancer
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