Photodynamic effect of curcumin on NPC/CNE2 cells

H. K. Koon, Albert W.N. Leung*, Kevin K M YUE, Nai Ki MAK

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

80 Citations (Scopus)


Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) is highly prevalent in Southern China. Radiotherapy is the primary treatment of NPC, but the rate of tumor recurrence is significant. Photodynamic therapy (PDT) and the use of natural compounds become one of the new approaches in the investigation of NPC treatment. PDT is an alternate method of cancer treatment while curcumin (CUR) is a compound derived from the traditional Chinese medicinal (TCM) herbs. The purpose of the study focuses on the photodynamic effect of CUR on one of the NPC cell lines, NPC/CNE2. Cytotoxicity and photocytotoxicity of CUR were evaluated by 3-(4,5-dimthyl-thiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide (MTT) reduction assay. Uptake kinetics of CUR in NPC/CNE2 was examined by flow cytometry. The mode of cell death induced by CUR was studied by fluorescence microscopy. Summarizing the results, CUR showed dark cytotoxicity as well as photocytotoxic effects on NPC/CNE2 cells. LC50 of CUR in the dark was about 16 μM. The cytotoxicity of CUR was enhanced by the irradiation of visible light and blue filtered light (maximum transmittance at 300∼400 nm) with light doses of 300 kJ/m2 and 60 kJ/m2 respectively. NPC/CNE2 was found to rapidly take up CUR in the first hour of incubation, and the uptake kinetics steadily increased to a plateau level after 20 hr of incubation. Cell shrinkage and membrane bledding appeared under the observation of fluorescence microscopy. Such evidences proved that CUR might induce apoptosis on NPC/CNE2 cells. The preliminary study confirmed that CUR demonstrated dark cytotoxicity and photocytotoxicty to NPC/CNE2. The mode of action is likely to be induced by apoptotic pathway. CUR may be developed as a potential photosensitizer as well as a chemotherapeutic agent in clinical application.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-215
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Environmental Pathology, Toxicology and Oncology
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2006

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Toxicology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis

User-Defined Keywords

  • Apoptosis
  • Curcumin
  • Cytotoxicity
  • Flow cytometry
  • Fluorescence microscopy
  • Nasopharyngeal carcinoma
  • Photocytotoxicity
  • Photodynamic effect
  • Traditional Chinese medicine


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