Quercetin induces tumor-selective apoptosis through downregulation of Mcl-1 and activation of bax

Senping Cheng, Ning Gao, Zhuo Zhang, Gang Chen, Amit Budhraja, Zunji Ke, Young Ok Son, Xin Wang, Jia Luo, Xianglin Shi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


Purpose: To investigate the in vivo antitumor efficacy of quercetin in U937 xenografts and the functional roles of Mcl-1 and Bax in quercetin-induced apoptosis in human leukemia. Experimental Design: Leukemia cells were treated with quercetin, after which apoptosis, Mcl-1 expression, and Bax activation and translocation were evaluated. The efficacy of quercetin as well as Mcl-1 expression and Bax activation were investigated in xenografts of U937 cells. Results: Administration of quercetin caused pronounced apoptosis in both transformed and primary leukemia cells but not in normal blood peripheral mononuclear cells. Quercetin-induced apoptosis was accompanied by Mcl-1 downregulation and Bax conformational change and mitochondrial translocation that triggered cytochrome c release. Knockdown of Bax by siRNA reversed quercetin-induced apoptosis and abrogated the activation of caspase and apoptosis. Ectopic expression of Mcl-1 attenuated quercetin-mediated Bax activation, translocation, and cell death. Conversely, interruption of Mcl-1 by siRNA enhanced Bax activation and translocation, as well as lethality induced by quercetin. However, the absence of Bax had no effect on quercetin-mediated Mcl-1 downregulation. Furthermore, in vivo administration of quercetin attenuated tumor growth in U937 xenografts. The TUNEL-positive apoptotic cells in tumor sections increased in quercetin-treated mice as compared with controls. Mcl-1 downregulation and Bax activation were also observed in xenografts. Conclusions: These data suggest that quercetin may be useful for the treatment of leukemia by preferentially inducing apoptosis in leukemia versus normal hematopoietic cells through a process involving Mcl-1 downregulation, which, in turn, potentiates Bax activation and mitochondrial translocation, culminating in apoptosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5679-5691
Number of pages13
JournalClinical Cancer Research
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 1 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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