Molecular modes of action of cantharidin in tumor cells

Thomas Efferth, Rolf Rauh, Stefan Kahl, Maja Tomicic, Herbert Böchzelt, Margaret E. Tome, Margaret M. Briehl, Rudolf Bauer, Bernd Kaina

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


Cancer chemotherapy is often limited by patient's toxicity and tumor drug resistance indicating that new drug development and modification of existing drugs is critical for improving the therapeutic response. Traditional Chinese medicine is a rich source of potential anticancer agents. In particular, cantharidin (CAN), the active principle ingredient from the blister beetle, Mylabris, has anti-tumor activity, but the cytotoxic mechanism is unknown. In leukemia cells, cantharidin induces apoptosis by a p53-dependent mechanism. Cantharidin causes both DNA single- and double-strand breaks. Colony-forming assays with knockout and transfectant cells lines showed that DNA polymerase β, but not ERCC1, conferred increased cell survival after cantharidin treatment, indicating that base excision repair (BER), rather than nucleotide excision repair (NER), is important for CAN-induced DNA lesions. Oxidative stress-resistant thymic lymphoma-derived WEHI7.2 variants are also more resistant to cantharidin. These data suggest that cantharidin treatment causes oxidative stress that provokes DNA damage and p53-dependent apoptosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)811-818
Number of pages8
JournalBiochemical Pharmacology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 1 2005


  • Apoptosis
  • Cancer chemotherapy
  • DNA repair
  • Natural compounds
  • Oxidative stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Pharmacology


Dive into the research topics of 'Molecular modes of action of cantharidin in tumor cells'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this