Planta Med 2003; 69(5): 402-407
DOI: 10.1055/s-2003-39695
Original Paper
© Georg Thieme Verlag Stuttgart · New York

Antitumor Activity of Balsam Fir Oil: Production of Reactive Oxygen Species Induced by α-Humulene as Possible Mechanism of Action

Jean Legault1, 3 , Wivecke Dahl3 , Eric Debiton1, 2 , André Pichette3 , Jean-Claude Madelmont1
  • 1UMR-Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale, Clermont-Ferrand, France
  • 2Laboratoire de Pharmacognosie et Biotechnologie, Faculté de Pharmacie, Clermont-Ferrand, France
  • 3Laboratoire LASEVE, Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, Chicoutimi, Québec, Canada
Further Information

Publication History

Received: September 24, 2002

Accepted: November 9, 2002

Publication Date:
12 June 2003 (online)


The antitumor activity of the essential oil of Abies balsamea (balsam fir oil) was evaluated against several solid tumor cell lines including MCF-7, PC-3, A-549, DLD-1, M4BEU and CT-26. Balsam fir oil was found to be active against all the solid tumor cell lines tested, with GI50 values ranging between 0.76 and 1.7 mg/mL. The oil was analyzed by GC-MS and the cytotoxicity of each oil constituent was determined. Balsam fir oil is essentially constituted of monoterpenes (&γτ; 96 %) and some sesquiterpenes. All the compounds tested were inactive (&γτ; 250 μM) except for α-humulene (GI50 = 55 to 73 μM) which thus seems responsible for the cytotoxicity of the oil. We also tested the cytotoxicity of caryophyllene oxide, which proved inactive, and γ-caryophyllene which was found to be active against all solid tumor cell lines tested. We evaluated the effects of balsam fir oil and α-humulene on the cellular glutathione (GSH) content and on the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Balsam fir oil and α-humulene induced a dose- and time-dependent decrease in cellular GSH content and an increase in ROS production. These results suggest that GSH depletion and ROS production may be implicated in the cytotoxicity of α-humulene and balsam fir oil.


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