Tanshinone IIA isolated from Salvia miltiorrhiza elicits the cell death of human endothelial cells

Li Jyun Yang, Chung Jiuan Jeng, Hsiu Ni Kung, Cheng Chi Chang, An Guor Wang, Gar Yang Chau, Ming Jaw Don*, Yat Pang Chau

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Tanshinone IIA, a major component extracted from the traditional herbal medicine, Salvia miltiorrhiza Bunge, is known to exhibit potent cytotoxicity against various human carcinoma cells in vitro. However, the mechanism by which tanshinone IIA produces this anti-tumor effect remains unknown. Since anti-neovascularization has generally been regarded as an effective strategy for anti-cancer therapy, we decided to investigate the mechanism underlying tanshinone IIA-mediated death of human endothelial cells. In this study, we demonstrate that tanshinone IIA elicits human endothelial cell death independent of oxidative stress. These events are partially calcium-dependent and actually dependent upon NAD(P)H: quinone oxidoreductase (NQO1) activity. Tanshinone IIA induces an increase in intracellular calcium, which triggers the release of cytochrome c, thus causing loss of the mitochondrial membrane potential (MMP), resulting in the subsequent activation of caspases. Blocking the induction of Ca2+ perturbation with BAPTA-AM partially rescued cells from tanshinone IIA-induced cytotoxicity. Additionally, blocking NQO1 activity with dicoumoral or inhibiting caspase activities with the general caspase inhibitor, z-VAD-fmk, prevented cell death induced by tanshinone IIA. Therefore, our results imply that tanshinone IIA-mediated cytotoxicity against human endothelial cells may occur through activation of NQO1, which induces a calcium imbalance and mitochondrial dysfunction, thus stimulating caspase activity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)347-361
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Biomedical Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2005


  • Human endothelial cells
  • NQO1 activity
  • Tanshinone IIA


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