Signal Transduction Events Elicited by Natural Products: Role of MAPK and Caspase Pathways in Homeostatic Response and Induction of Apoptosis

Ah Ng Tony Kong, Rong Yu, Chi Chen, Sandhya Mandlekar, Thomas Primiano

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

247 Scopus citations


Many natural products elicit diverse pharmacological effects. Using two classes of potential chemopreventive compounds, the phenolic compounds and the isothiocyanates, we review the potential utility of two signaling events, the mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs) and the ICE/Ced-3 proteases (caspases) stimulated by these agents in mammalian cell lines. Studies with phenolic antioxidants (BHA, tBHQ), and natural products (flavonoids; EGCG, ECG, and isothiocyanates; PEITC, sulforaphane), provided important insights into the signaling pathways induced by these compounds. At low concentrations, these chemicals may activate the MAPK (ERK2, JNK1, p38) leading to gene expression of survival genes (c-Fos, c-Jun) and defensive genes (Phase II detoxifying enzymes; GST, QR) resulting in survival and protective mechanisms (homeostasis response). Increasing the concentrations of these compounds will additionally activate the caspase pathway, leading to apoptosis (potential cytotoxicity). Further increment to suprapharmacological concentrations will lead to nonspecific necrotic cell death. The wider and narrow concentration ranges between the activation of MAPK/gene induction and caspases/cell death exhibited by phenolic compounds and isothiocyanates, respectively, in mammalian cells, may reflect their respective therapeutic windows in vivo. Consequently, the studies of signaling pathways elicited by natural products will advance our understanding of their efficacy and safety, of which many may become important therapeutic drugs of the future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalArchives of Pharmacal Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2000

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Drs. David Ucker and Tse-Hua Tan for the exciting collaborative efforts and our colleagues for helpful discussions. This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health grant R01-CA73674 to A.-N. T. Kong.


  • Apoptosis
  • Caspases
  • Chemopreventive agents
  • MAPK
  • Phase II drug metabolizing enzymes


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