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Cellular & Molecular Biology Letters

Open Access

Capsaicin induces apoptosis by generating reactive oxygen species and disrupting mitochondrial transmembrane potential in human colon cancer cell lines

  • Kyung Min Yang1,
  • Jong Ok Pyo2,
  • Gyu-Yeol Kim3,
  • Rina Yu4,
  • In Seob Han5,
  • Seong A. Ju6,
  • Won Ho Kim1 and
  • Byung-Sam Kim5Email author
Cellular & Molecular Biology LettersAn International Journal200914:16

Received: 19 March 2008

Accepted: 26 March 2009

Published: 16 April 2009


Although genetic factors are a well-known cause of colorectal cancer, environmental factors contribute more to its development. Despite advances in the fields of surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, the cure rates for colon cancer have not substantially improved over the past few decades. Capsaicin (trans-8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide), the principal pungent ingredient of hot chili pepper, has exhibited an anti-tumor effect in many cell types. However, the mechanisms responsible for the anti-tumor effect of capsaicin are not yet completely understood. In this study, we investigated whether capsaicin induces apoptosis in colon cancer cell lines. Capsaicin decreased cell viability in a dose-dependent manner in Colo320DM and LoVo cells. In addition, capsaicin produced cell morphology changes and DNA fragmentation, decreased the DNA contents, and induced phosphatidylserine translocation, which is a hallmark of apoptotic cell death. We showed that capsaicin-induced apoptosis is associated with an increase in ROS generation and a disruption of the mitochondrial transmenbrane potential. A possible mechanism of capsaicin-induced apoptosis is the activation of caspase 3, a major apoptosis-executing enzyme. Treatment with capsaicin induced a dramatic increase in caspase 3 activity, as assessed by the cleavage of Ac-DEVD-AMC, a fluorogenic substrate. In conclusion, our results clearly showed that capsaicin induced apoptosis in colon cancer cells. Although the actual mechanisms of capsaicin-induced apoptosis remain uncertain, it may be a beneficial agent for colon cancer treatment and chemoprevention.

Key words

CapsaicinColon cancer cell lineApoptosisMitochondrial transmembrane potentialReactive oxygen speciesCaspase 3