Curcumin: a potent agent to reverse epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition

  • Afsane Bahrami
  • Muhammed Majeed
  • Amirhossein SahebkarEmail author



Epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is involved in tumor progression, invasion, migration and metastasis. EMT is a process by which polarized epithelial cells acquire motile mesothelial phenotypic features. This process is initiated by disassembly of cell-cell contacts through the loss of epithelial markers and replacement of these markers by mesenchymal markers. Reconstruction of the cytoskeleton and degradation of the tumor basement membrane ensures the spread of invasive malignant tumor cells to distant locations. Accumulating evidence indicates that curcumin, as a well-known phytochemical, can inhibit EMT/metastasis through various mechanisms and pathways in human tumors.


In this review, we summarize the mechanisms by which curcumin may affect EMT in cells under pathological conditions to understand its potential as a novel anti-tumor agent. Curcumin can exert chemo-preventive effects by inhibition and reversal of the EMT process through both TGF-β-dependent (e.g. in hepatoma and retinal pigment epithelial cancer) and -independent (e.g. in oral cancer, colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma, breast cancer, melanoma, prostate cancer, bladder cancer, thyroid cancer and lung cancer) pathways. Curcumin can also mitigate chemoresistance through EMT suppression and promotion of the antiproliferative effects of conventional chemotherapeutics. Therefore, curcumin has the potential to be used as a novel adjunctive agent to prevent tumor metastasis, which may at least partly be attributed to its hampering of the EMT process.


Turmeric, Curcumin E-cadherin Vimentin TGF-β Smad pathway 



This project has been supported by a grant from the Cancer Research Center of the Cancer Institute of Iran (Shams cancer charity, Grant No: 37312-202-01-97). This project was also financially supported by grant No. 960206 of the Biotechnology Development Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interests

Muhammed Majeed is the founder of Sabinsa Corporation and Sami Labs Ltd. Other authors have no direct competing interests to declare.


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Copyright information

© International Society for Cellular Oncology 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Afsane Bahrami
    • 1
  • Muhammed Majeed
    • 2
  • Amirhossein Sahebkar
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
    Email author
  1. 1.Cellular and Molecular Research CenterBirjand University of Medical SciencesBirjandIran
  2. 2.Sabinsa CorporationEast WindsorUSA
  3. 3.Department of Medical Biotechnology Research Center, School of Medicine, Pharmaceutical Technology InstituteMashhad University of Medical SciencesMashhadIran
  4. 4.Neurogenic Inflammation Research CenterMashhad University of Medical SciencesMashhadIran
  5. 5.School of PharmacyMashhad University of Medical SciencesMashhadIran

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