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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Curcumin induces the apoptosis of human monocytic leukemia THP-1 cells via the activation of JNK/ERK Pathways

Chu-Wen Yang1*, Chi-Lun Chang1, Hsin-Chen Lee2, Chin-Wen Chi3, Jia-Ping Pan1 and Wen-Chin Yang24

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Microbiology, Soochow University, Shih-Lin, Taipei 111, Taiwan, ROC

2 Institute of Pharmacology, School of Medicine, National Yang-Ming University, Taipei 112, Taiwan, ROC

3 Department of Medical Research and Education, Taipei Veterans General Hospital, Taipei 112, Taiwan, ROC

4 Agricultural Biotechnology Research Center, Academia Sinica, Taipei 115, Taiwan, ROC

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2012, 12:22  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-12-22

Published: 24 March 2012



Curcumin is a principal compound of turmeric, commonly used to treat tumors and other diseases. However, its anti-cancer activity in human acute monocytic leukemia THP-1 cells is not clear. This study aimed to study the anti-cancer effect and action of curcumin on THP-1 cells.


THP-1 parental cells and PMA-treated THP-1 cells, were used as in vitro models to evaluate the anti-cancer effect and mechanism of curcumin. Apoptosis and its mechanism were evaluated by WST-1, flow cytometry and Western blotting. MAPK inhibitors were used to further confirm the molecular mechanism of curcumin-induced THP-1 cell apoptosis.


Curcumin induced cell apoptosis of THP-1 cells as shown by cell viability, cell cycle analysis and caspase activity. Curcumin significantly increased the phosphorylation of ERK, JNK and their downstream molecules (c-Jun and Jun B). Inhibitor of JNK and ERK reduced the pro-apoptotic effect of curcumin on THP-1 cells as evidenced by caspase activity and the activation of ERK/JNK/Jun cascades. On the contrary, the pro-apoptotic effect of curcumin was abolished in the differentiated THP-1 cells mediated by PMA.


This study demonstrates that curcumin can induce the THP-1 cell apoptosis through the activation of JNK/ERK/AP1 pathways. Besides, our data suggest its novel use as an anti-tumor agent in acute monocytic leukemia.