Anticancer Activity of Salvia miltiorrhiza and Its Secondary Metabolites

  • Ching-Fen Wu
  • Thomas EfferthEmail author


Salvia miltiorrhiza Bunge (danshen) is a well-known traditional Chinese medicinal herb. The root part of the plant contains most of the bioactive ingredients, which mainly belong to two groups of compounds: hydrophilic phenolic acids and hydrophobic tanshinones. These bioactive compounds refer to as secondary metabolites and exert multiple therapeutic activities, such as anti-oxidative stress, anti-neurodegenerative, anti-inflammatory, and anti-hypertensive effects without showing serious side effects. Besides these pharmacological activities, anticancer effects have also attracted scientific attention. This review will provide an updated summary of the anticancer effects and the proposed mechanisms of the major bioactive compounds isolated from S. miltiorrhiza.


Salvia miltiorrhiza Phenolic acid Tanshinone Multidrug resistance Anticancer 

List of Abbreviations


ATP-binding cassette


AMP-activated protein kinase


Acute promyelocytic leukemia


All-trans retinoic acid




Breast cancer resistance protein












Epidermal growth factor receptor


Eukaryotic initiation factor 4F


Endoplasmic reticulum


Global burden of disease


Histone H3 lysine 9


Hypoxia-inducible factor 1 alpha


Head and neck squamous cell cancer


Human umbilical vein endothelial cells


Lysine-specific demethylase 1


Reducing multidrug resistance


Mitochondrial membrane potential


Matrix metalloproteinase 9


Multidrug resistance associated protein 1


NAD(P)H: quinone oxidoreductase 1


Nuclear factor erythroid-related factor 2


Non-small cell lung cancer


Prostaglandin E2


Protein arginine methyltransferase


Rosmarinic acid


Reactive oxygen species

Sal A

Salvianolic acid A

Sal B

Salvianolic acid B


Squamous cell carcinoma


Signal transducer and activator of transcription 3


Traditional Chinese medicine


Tissue inhibitor of matrix metalloproteinase protein


Tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand


Vascular endothelial growth factors


World Health Organization



We are grateful to the German Academic Exchange Serve (DAAD) for a Ph.D. stipend to C.F.W. We Chunlan Hong for supporting literature survey and Dr. Maen Zeino for critical reading of the manuscript.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Pharmaceutical BiologyInstitute of Pharmacy and Biochemistry, Johannes Gutenberg UniversityMainzGermany

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