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In vitro cytotoxicity of Artemisia vulgaris L. essential oil is mediated by a mitochondria-dependent apoptosis in HL-60 leukemic cell line

Ayman M Saleh12*, Ahmad Aljada12, Syed AA Rizvi3, Amre Nasr1, Ahmed S Alaskar24 and Jack D Williams5

Author Affiliations

1 College of Medicine, King Saud Bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences (KSAU-HS), Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

2 King Abdullah International Medical Research Center (KAIMRC), P.O. Box: 3660, Riyadh 11481, Saudi Arabia

3 College of Pharmacy, Nova Southeastern University (NSU), Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA

4 Division of Adult Hematology & HSCT, Department of Oncology, King Abdulaziz Medical City, P.O. Box 22490, Riyadh 11426, Saudi Arabia

5 Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Mercyhurst University, Erie, PA, USA

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2014, 14:226  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-14-226

Published: 7 July 2014



The essential oil (EO) of Artemisia vulgaris L. has been traditionally used worldwide for treating a large number of diseases. Although major components in A. vulgaris EO have been shown to inhibit growth of different cancer cells, as pure compounds or part of other plants extracted oil, no information is known about its anti-proliferative activities. Therefore, the current investigation has evaluated the toxicity of the plant extracted oil from buds (AVO-b) and leaves (AVO-l) and characterized their growth inhibitory effects on cancer cells.


AVO-b and AVO-l from A. vulgaris L. were extracted by hydrodistillation, and their effect on the viability of human HL-60 promyelocytic leukemia and various other cancer cell lines was tested using MTT assay. Flow cytometric analysis of apoptosis, DNA fragmentation assay, caspases enzymatic activities and Western blotting were used to determine the apoptotic pathway triggered by their action on HL-60 cells.


Low concentrations of AVO-b and AVO-l inhibited the growth of HL-60 cells in a dose- and time-dependent manner. Employing flow cytometric, DNA fragmentation and caspase activation analyses, demonstrated that the cytotoxic effect of the oils is mediated by a caspase-dependent apoptosis. Kinetic studies in the presence and absence specific caspase inhibitors showed that activation of caspase-8 was dependent and subsequent to the activation of caspases-9 and -3. In addition, the essential oil caused a disruption of the mitochondrial transmembrane potential (ΔΨm), increased the release of cytochrome c to the cytosol, and altered the expression of certain members of Bcl-2 family (Bcl-2, Bax and Bid), Apaf-1 and XIAP. Interestingly, low doses of AVO-b and AVO-1 also induced apoptosis in various cancer cell lines, but not in noncancerous cells.


The results demonstrate that the EO-induced apoptosis in HL-60 cells is mediated by caspase-dependent pathways, involving caspases-3, -9, and -8, which are initiated by Bcl-2/Bax/Bid-dependent loss of ΔΨm leading to release of cytochrome c to the cytoplasm to activate the caspase cascade. The finding that AVO-b and AVO-l are more efficient to induce apoptosis in different cancer cell lines than noncancerous cells, suggests that A. vulgaris might be a promising source for new anticancer agents.

Artemisia vulgaris; Essential oil; Cytotoxicity; Apoptosis; Mitochondria; Caspases; Bcl-2 family