The effects of artemisinin on the cytolytic activity of natural killer (NK) cells

Youn Kyung Houh, Kyung Eun Kim, Sunyoung Park, Dae Young Hur, Seonghan Kim, Daejin Kim, Sa Ik Bang, Yoolhee Yang, Hyun Jeong Park, Daeho Cho

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


Artemisinin, a chemical compound used for the treatment of malaria, has been known to show anti-cancer activity. However, the effect of this chemical on natural killer (NK) cells, which are involved in tumor killing, remains unknown. Here, we demonstrate that artemisinin exerts a potent anti-cancer effect by activating NK cells. NK-92MI cells pre-treated with artemisinin were subjected to a cytotoxicity assay using K562 cells. The results showed that artemisinin significantly enhances the cytolytic activity of NK cells in a dose-dependent manner. Additionally, the artemisinin-enhanced cytotoxic effect of NK-92MI cells on tumor cells was accompanied by the stimulation of granule exocytosis, as evidenced by the detection of CD107a expression in NK cells. Moreover, this enhancement of cytotoxicity by artemisinin was also observed in human primary NK cells from peripheral blood. Our results suggest that artemisinin enhances human NK cell cytotoxicity and degranulation. This is the first evidence that artemisinin exerts antitumor activity by enhancing NK cytotoxicity. Therefore, these results provide a deeper understanding of the action of artemisinin and will contribute to the development and application of this class of compounds in cancer treatment strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1600
JournalInternational journal of molecular sciences
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Jul 24
Externally publishedYes


  • Artemisinin
  • Cytotoxicity
  • Degranulation
  • Natural killer cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Molecular Biology
  • Spectroscopy
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry


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