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A triterpenediol from Boswellia serrata induces apoptosis through both the intrinsic and extrinsic apoptotic pathways in human leukemia HL-60 cells

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A triterpenediol (TPD) comprising of isomeric mixture of 3α, 24-dihydroxyurs-12-ene and 3α, 24-dihydroxyolean-12-ene from Boswellia serrata induces apoptosis in cancer cells. An attempt was made in this study to investigate the mechanism of cell death by TPD in human leukemia HL-60 cells. It inhibited cell proliferation with IC50 ∼ 12 μg/ml and produced apoptosis as measured by various biological end points e.g. increased sub-G0 DNA fraction, DNA ladder formation, enhanced AnnexinV-FITC binding of the cells. Further, initial events involved massive reactive oxygen species (ROS) and nitric oxide (NO) formation, which were significantly inhibited by their respective inhibitors. Persistent high levels of NO and ROS caused Bcl-2 cleavage and translocation of Bax to mitochondria, which lead to loss of mitochondrial membrane potential (Δψm) and release of cytochrome c, AIF, Smac/DIABLO to the cytosol. These events were associated with decreased expression of survivin and ICAD with attendant activation of caspases leading to PARP cleavage. Furthermore, TPD up regulated the expression of cell death receptors DR4 and TNF-R1 level, leading to caspase-8 activation. These studies thus demonstrate that TPD produces oxidative stress in cancer cells that triggers self-demise by ROS and NO regulated activation of both the intrinsic and extrinsic signaling cascades.

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2,7-Dichlorofluoresceine diacetate



Δψm :

Mitochondrial membrane potential


3-(4,5-Dimethylthiazole-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide


Peripheral blood mononuclear cell




Inducible nitric oxide synthase


Propidium iodide


Mitochondrial permeability transition pore


Nitric oxide






Apoptosis inducing factor


Phenylmethanesulfonyl fluoride


Inhibitor of caspase activating DNAse


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We are highly thankful to Dr. Sarang Bani and Sheikh Fayaz (SRF, CSIR) for their help in the use of Flow Cytometery.

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Correspondence to Jaswant Singh.

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Bhushan, S., Kumar, A., Malik, F. et al. A triterpenediol from Boswellia serrata induces apoptosis through both the intrinsic and extrinsic apoptotic pathways in human leukemia HL-60 cells. Apoptosis 12, 1911–1926 (2007).

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