Review article


, 5:23

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

A promising “TRAIL” of tanshinones for cancer therapy

  • Tsing-Fen HoAffiliated withDepartment of Medical Laboratory Science and Biotechnology, Central Taiwan University of Science and Technology
  • , Chia-Che ChangAffiliated withInstitute of Biomedical Sciences, National Chung Hsing UniversityAgricultural Biotechnology Center, National Chung Hsing UniversityPh.D. Program in Translational Medicine, National Chung Hsing UniversityRong Hsing Research Center for Translational Medicine, National Chung Hsing University Email author 


An ideal cancer therapy specifically targets cancer cells while sparing normal tissues. Tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) elicits apoptosis by engaging its cognate death receptors (DRs—namely, DR4 and DR5. The cancer cell-selective proapoptotic action of TRAIL is highly attractive for cancer therapy, but clinical application of TRAIL is rather limited due to tumors’ inherent or acquired TRAIL resistance. Combining TRAIL with agents that reverse resistance to it has proved promising in the sensitization of TRAIL-induced apoptosis. Noteworthy, natural compounds have already been validated as potential resources for TRAIL sensitizers. In this review, we focus on the recently identified TRAILsensitizing effect of tanshinones, the anticancer ingredients of the medicinal plant Salvia miltiorrhiza (Danshen in Chinese). Research from our laboratories and others have revealed the synergy of a tanshinones-TRAIL combination in diverse types of cancer cells through up-regulation of DR5 and/or down-regulation of antiapoptotic proteins such as survivin. Thus, in addition to their anticancer mechanisms, tanshinones as TRAIL sensitizers hold great potential to be translated to TRAIL-based therapeutic modalities for combatting cancer.


Apoptosis Cancer therapy Danshen Tanshinones TRAIL