Glutathione regulates caspase-dependent ceramide production and curcumin-induced apoptosis in human leukemic cells

Jaleel Kizhakkayil, Faisal Thayyullathil, Shahanas Chathoth, Abdulkader Hago, Mahendra Patel, Sehamuddin Galadari

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Depletion of intracellular glutathione (GSH) is the prime hallmark of the progression of apoptosis. Previously, we reported that curcumin induces reactive oxygen species (ROS)-mediated depletion of GSH, which leads to caspase-dependent and independent apoptosis in mouse fibroblast cells (F. Thayyullathil et al., Free Radic. Biol. Med. 45, 14031412, 2008). In this study, we investigated the antileukemic potential of curcumin in vitro, and we further examined the molecular mechanisms of curcumin-induced apoptosis in human leukemic cells. Curcumin suppresses the growth of human leukemic cells via ROS-independent GSH depletion, which leads to caspase activation, inhibition of sphingomyelin synthase (SMS) activity, and induction of ceramide (Cer) generation. Pretreatment of leukemic cells with carbobenzoxy-Val-Ala-Asp fluoromethylketone, a universal inhibitor of caspases, abrogates the SMS inhibition and Cer generation, and in turn prevents curcumin-induced cell death. Curcumin treatment of leukemic cells also downregulates the expression of the inhibitor of apoptosis proteins (IAPs), phospho-Akt, c-Myc, and cyclin D1. Extracellular supplementation with GSH attenuates curcumin-induced depletion of GSH, caspase-dependent inhibition of SMS, Cer generation, and downregulation of IAPs, whereas, L-D-buthionine sulfoximine, a widely used inhibitor of GSH synthesis, potentiates GSH depletion, Cer generation, and apoptosis induced by curcumin. Taken together, our findings provide evidence suggesting for the first time that GSH regulates caspase-dependent inhibition of SMS activity, Cer generation, and apoptosis induced by curcumin in human leukemic cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1854-1864
Number of pages11
JournalFree Radical Biology and Medicine
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 1 2012


  • Apoptosis
  • Caspase-3
  • Ceramide
  • Curcumin
  • Free radicals
  • Glutathione
  • Sphingomyelin synthase

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Physiology (medical)


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