Shikonin exerts antitumor activity via proteasome inhibition and cell death induction in vitro and in vivo

Huanjie Yang, Ping Zhou, Hongbiao Huang, Di Chen, Ningfang Ma, Qiuzhi Cindy Cui, Shouxing Shen, Weihua Dong, Xiaoyan Zhang, Wen Lian, Xuejun Wang, Q. Ping Dou, Jinbao Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

152 Scopus citations


Dysregulation of the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway plays an essential role in tumor growth and development. Shikonin, a natural naphthoquinone isolated from the traditional Chinese medicine Zi Cao (gromwell), has been reported to possess tumor cellkilling activity, and results from a clinical study using a shikonincontaining mixture demonstrated its safety and efficacy for the treatment of late-stage lung cancer. In this study, we reported that shikonin is an inhibitor of tumor proteasome activity in vitro and in vivo. Our computational modeling predicts that the carbonyl carbons C1 and C4 of shikonin potentially interact with the catalytic site of β5 chymotryptic subunit of the proteasome. Indeed, shikonin potently inhibits the chymotrypsin-like activity of purified 20S proteasome (IC 50 12.5 μmol/L) and tumor cellular 26S proteasome (IC50 between 2-16 μmol/L). Inhibition of the proteasome by shikonin in murine hepatoma H22, leukemia P388 and human prostate cancer PC-3 cultures resulted in accumulation of ubiquitinated proteins and several proteasome target proapoptotic proteins (IκB-α, Bax and p27), followed by induction of cell death. Shikonin treatment resulted in tumor growth inhibition in both H22 allografts and PC-3 xenografts, associated with suppression of the proteasomal activity and induction of cell death in vivo. Finally, shikonin treatment significantly prolonged the survival period of mice bearing P388 leukemia. Our results indicate that the tumor proteasome is one of the cellular targets of shikonin and inhibition of the proteasome activity by shikonin contributes to its antitumor property.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2450-2459
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Cancer
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 15 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Hepatoma
  • Medicinal compounds
  • Prostate cancer
  • Proteasome inhibitor
  • Shikonin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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