J Cancer 2016; 7(10):1250-1257. doi:10.7150/jca.15690

Research Paper

Curcumin Sensitizes Silymarin to Exert Synergistic Anticancer Activity in Colon Cancer Cells

Amanda Montgomery1, Temitope Adeyeni2,3, KayKay San3, Rita M. Heuertz3, Uthayashanker R. Ezekiel3✉

1. Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Saint Louis University St. Louis, MO 63104, USA;
2. Department of Health Science and Informatics, Saint Louis University St. Louis, MO 63104, USA;
3. Biomedical Laboratory Science, Saint Louis University St. Louis, MO 63104, USA.


We studied combinatorial interactions of two phytochemicals, curcumin and silymarin, in their action against cancer cell proliferation. Curcumin is the major component of the spice turmeric. Silymarin is a bioactive component of milk thistle used as a protective supplement against liver disease. We studied antiproliferative effects of curcumin alone, silymarin alone and combinations of curcumin and silymarin using colon cancer cell lines (DLD-1, HCT116, LoVo). Curcumin inhibited colon cancer cell proliferation in a concentration-dependent manner, whereas silymarin showed significant inhibition only at the highest concentrations assessed. We found synergistic effects when colon cancer cells were treated with curcumin and silymarin together. The combination treatment led to inhibition of colon cancer cell proliferation and increased apoptosis compared to single compound treated cells. Combination treated cells exhibited marked cell rounding and membrane blebbing of apoptotic cells. Curcumin treated cells showed 3-fold more caspase3/7 activity whereas combination treated cells showed 5-fold more activity compared to control and silymarin treated cells. When DLD-1 cells were pre-exposed to curcumin, followed by treatment with silymarin, the cells underwent a high amount of cell death. The pre-exposure studies indicated curcumin sensitization of silymarin effect. Our results indicate that combinatorial treatments using phytochemicals are effective against colorectal cancer.

Keywords: curcumin, silymarin, synergy, colon cancer, phytochemicals.

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How to cite this article:
Montgomery A, Adeyeni T, San K, Heuertz RM, Ezekiel UR. Curcumin Sensitizes Silymarin to Exert Synergistic Anticancer Activity in Colon Cancer Cells. J Cancer 2016; 7(10):1250-1257. doi:10.7150/jca.15690. Available from http://www.jcancer.org/v07p1250.htm