Molecular Mechanisms behind Safranal’s Toxicity to HepG2 Cells from Dual Omics

David Roy Nelson, Ala’A Al Hrout, Amnah Salem Alzahmi, Amphun Chaiboonchoe, Amr Amin, Kourosh Salehi-Ashtiani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The spice saffron (Crocus sativus) has anticancer activity in several human tissues, but the molecular mechanisms underlying its potential therapeutic effects are poorly understood. We investigated the impact of safranal, a small molecule secondary metabolite from saffron, on the HCC cell line HepG2 using untargeted metabolomics (HPLC–MS) and transcriptomics (RNAseq). Increases in glutathione disulfide and other biomarkers for oxidative damage contrasted with lower levels of the antioxidants biliverdin IX (139-fold decrease, p = 5.3 × 105), the ubiquinol precursor 3-4-dihydroxy-5-all-trans-decaprenylbenzoate (3-fold decrease, p = 1.9 × 10−5), and resolvin E1 (−3282-fold decrease, p = 45), which indicates sensitization to reactive oxygen species. We observed a significant increase in intracellular hypoxanthine (538-fold increase, p = 7.7 × 10−6) that may be primarily responsible for oxidative damage in HCC after safranal treatment. The accumulation of free fatty acids and other biomarkers, such as S-methyl-5-thioadenosine, are consistent with safranal-induced mitochondrial de-uncoupling and explains the sharp increase in hypoxanthine we observed. Overall, the dual omics datasets describe routes to widespread protein destabilization and DNA damage from safranal-induced oxidative stress in HCC cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1125
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • DNA damage
  • cancer
  • hepatocellular carcinoma
  • hypoxanthine
  • natural products
  • saffron
  • safranal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Physiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


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