Focus on phytosubstances – Danshen root – amazing properties of salvia miltiorrhiza Bunge

Salvia miltiorrhiza Bunge (Danshen root) is an important staple of traditional Chinese medicine that has long been used to treat a variety of illnesses including type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases.  Strong research evidence such as that cited here indicates that the health-producing properties of this substance are based on the molecular biological activities of its component substances.  Some important properties of the remarkable substance are highlighted in the publications cited here. 

About Denshen root and its components – a traditional Chinese medicine and a possible new wonder substance

Danshen and its major chemical components have undergone significant modern research scrutiny in recent years using the powerful current tools of molecular biology, genomics, etc.  The Pubmed listingfor danshen or tanshinone or salvia miltiorrhiza bunge shows 1684 research publication.  Many of these are very recent.  Going through these as summarized here, it appears that the substance has amazing curative powers and that it may become the basis for anticancer therapies.  The research appears to be of the highest quality.  However, a matter that strikes me strongly is that all of the research authors appear to have Chinese or Korean names, whether they are in China itself, Taiwan, Korea or elsewhere in the world.  Unlike astragalus root and certain other traditional Chinese cures, the substance seems not ever to have come to the attention of non-Asian researchers.

Basics about Danshen

Salvia miltiorrhiza (simplified Chinese: 丹参; traditional Chinese: 丹參; pinyin: dānshēn), also known as red sage, Chinese sage, tan shen, or danshen, is a perennial plant in the genus Salvia, highly valued for its roots in traditional Chinese medicine.[2] Native to China and Japan, it grows at 90 to 1,200 m (300 to 3,900 ft) elevation, preferring grassy places in forests, hillsides, and along stream banks. The specific epithet miltiorrhiza means “red juice extracted from a root”.[3]The oldest documented record of danshen as a medical agent is found in Shen Nun Ben Cao (The Divine Husbandman’s Classic of the Materia Medica), dated at about 200 CE.4(ref).

One of the most important active phytochemical components of salviamiltiorrhiza bunge is tanshinone IIA (Tan IIA; 14,16-epoxy-20-nor-5(10),6,8,13,15-abietapentaene-11,12-dione).  Research described below indicates that tanshinone IIA is capable of anti-angiogenic, anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and apoptotic activities.  Moreover, it appears to act strongly against a variety of cancer types.  The Denshen plant contains a number of other important phytochemicals “Four diterpenoid tanshinones and three phenolic acids were isolated from the crude ethanol extract of the cultured hairy roots of Salvia miltiorrhiza Bunge by bioassay-guided fractionation. By means of physicochemical and spectrometric analysis, they were identified as tanshinone ΙΙA (1), tanshinone Ι (2), cryptotanshinone (3), dihydrotanshinone Ι (4), rosmarinic acid (5), caffeic acid (6), and danshensu (7).(Ref)” Regarding the health benefits of two of the mentioned substances, see the blog entries Rosmarinic acid and Phytochemicals – focus on caffeic acid.

Anti-microbial properties of Danshen

The March 2011 publication Diterpenoid tanshinones and phenolic acids from cultured hairy roots of Salvia miltiorrhizaBunge and their antimicrobial activitiesreports “ — tanshinone ΙΙA (1), tanshinone Ι (2), cryptotanshinone (3), dihydrotanshinone Ι (4), rosmarinic acid (5), caffeic acid (6), and danshensu (7 —  were evaluated to show a broad antimicrobial spectrum of activity on test microorganisms including eight bacterial and one fungal species. Among the four tanshinones, cryptotanshinone (3) and dihydrotanshinone Ι (4) exhibited stronger antimicrobial activity than tanshinone ΙΙA (1) and tanshinone Ι (2). The results indicated that the major portion of the antimicrobial activity was due to the presence of tanshinones and phenolic acids in S. miltiorrhiza hairy roots, which could be used as the materials for producing antimicrobial agents for use in agricultural practice in the future.”

Danshen suppresses inflammatory cytokines and promotes the expression of anti-inflammatory cytokines.

The October 2011 publication Role of Salvia miltiorrhiza for Modulation of Th2-derived Cytokines in the Resolution of Inflammation reports: “Background: Salvia miltiorrhiza (SM) has been used to treat inflammatory diseases including edema and arthritis; however, the anti-inflammatory mechanism of SM action remains unresolved.  Methods: The effects of an ethanol extract of SM (ESM) on pro-inflammatory cytokines such as TNF-α, IL-1β, IL-6, and NO, on anti-inflammatory cytokines including IL-4, IL-10, TGF-β, and IL-1Ra have been studied in an attempt to elucidate the anti-inflammatory mechanism in murine macrophages. Results: ESM inhibited the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines via down-regulation of gene and protein expression whereas it increased the anti-inflammatory cytokines. Furthermore, ESM inhibited the expression of the chemokines, RANTES and CX3CL1, as well as of inflammatory mediators such as TLR-4 and 11β-HSD1.  Conclusion: These results indicated that the regulatory effects of ESM may be mediated though the suppression of pro-inflammatory cytokines as well as the induction of anti-inflammatory cytokines. Consequently, we speculate that ESM has therapeutic potential for inflammation-associated disorders.”

Danhen is cytoprotective against oxidative stress

The December 2011 publication Extract of Salvia miltiorrhiza (Danshen) induces Nrf2-mediated heme oxygenase-1 expression as a cytoprotective action in RAW 264.7 macrophagesreports: Ethnopharmacological Relevance: Danshen (Salvia miltiorrhiza) is widely used in traditional herbal medicines for relief of a variety of symptoms related to complications arising from vascular diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and atherosclerosis. Induction of heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1) expression protects against oxidative stress-induced cell damage, which plays an important role in cytoprotection in a variety of pathological models.  Aim: In the present study, we investigated the influence of Danshen on the up-regulation of HO-1, an inducible and cytoprotective enzyme in RAW 264.7 macrophages. Materials And Methods: Danshen induced HO-1 mRNA expression and protein production, and nuclear translocation of NF-E2-related factor 2 in RAW 264.7 macrophages. Pharmacological inhibitors of PI3K/Akt and MEK1 attenuated HO-1 induction in Danshen-stimulated RAW 264.7 macrophages. Furthermore, Danshen pretreatment reduced intracellular production of reactive oxygen species after stimulation with hydrogen peroxide; this effect was reversed by the HO-1 inhibitor ZnPP.  Conclusion: Danshen induced HO-1 expression through PI3K/Akt-MEK1-Nrf2 pathway and reduced intracellular production of reactive oxygen species via induction of HO-1 expression. The results support a role of HO-1 in the cytoprotective effect of Danshen.”

Mechanisms of action of danshen for prevention and treatment of coronary artery and heart disease are being discovered.

The June 2011 publicationCardiovascular actions and therapeutic potential of tanshinone IIA relates: “Tanshinone IIA (TS), a pharmacologically active component isolated from the rhizome of the Chinese herb Salvia miltiorrhizaBunge (Danshen), has been clinically used in Asian countries for the prevention and treatment of coronary heart disease. Recently, the pharmacological properties of TS in the cardiovascular system have attracted great interest. Emerging experimental studies and clinical trials have demonstrated that TS prevents atherogenesis as well as cardiac injury and hypertrophy. In atherosclerosis, TS acts by inhibiting LDL oxidation, monocyte adhesion to endothelium, smooth muscle cell migration and proliferation, macrophage cholesterol accumulation, proinflammatory cytokine expression and platelet aggregation. TS has some activity and potential to stabilize atherosclerotic plaques. The cardioprotective effects of TS are mainly related to its anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory actions. In this review, we focus on the protective effects and the mechanism of action of TS in the cardiovascular system, and provide a novel perspective on clinical use of TS.”

The November 2011 document Tanshinone II-A attenuates and stabilizes atherosclerotic plaques in apolipoprotein-E knockout mice fed a high cholesterol diet reports: “Tanshinone II-A (Tan), a bioactive diterpene isolated from Salvia miltiorrhizaBunge (Danshen), possesses anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory activities. The present study investigated whether Tan can decrease and stabilize atherosclerotic plaques in Apolipoprotein-E knockout (ApoE(-/-)) mice maintained on a high cholesterol diet (HCD). Six week-old mice challenged with a HCD were randomly assigned to 4 groups: (a) C57BL/6J; (b) ApoE(-/-); (c) ApoE(-/-)+Tan-30 (30 mg/kg/d); (d) ApoE(-/-)+Tan-10 (10mg/kg/d). After 16 weeks of intervention, Tan treated mice showed decreased atherosclerotic lesion size in the aortic sinus and en face aorta. Furthermore, immunohistochemical analysis revealed that Tan rendered the lesion composition a more stable phenotype as evidenced by reduced necrotic cores, decreased macrophage infiltration, and increased smooth muscle cell and collagen contents. Tan also significantly reduced in situ superoxide anion production, aortic expression of NF-κB and matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9). In vitro treatment of RAW264.7 macrophages with Tan significantly suppressed oxidized LDL-induced reactive oxygen species production, pro-inflammatory cytokine (IL-6, TNF-α, MCP-1) expression, and MMP-9 activity. Tan attenuates the development of atherosclerotic lesions and promotes plaque stability in ApoE(-/-) mice by reducing vascular oxidative stress and inflammatory response. Our findings highlight Tan as a potential therapeutic agent to prevent atherosclerotic cardiovascular diseases.”

The 2011 publication Tanshinone IIA inhibits angiotensin II-induced cell proliferation in rat cardiac fibroblasts reports: “Tanshinone IIA extracted from danshen, a popular medicinal herb used in traditional Chinese medicine, exhibits cardio-protective effects. However, the mechanism of its cardioprotective effect is not well established. The aims of this study were to examine whether tanshinone IIA may alter angiotensin II (Ang II)-induced cell proliferation and to identify the putative underlying signaling pathways in rat cardiac fibroblasts. Cultured rat cardiac fibroblasts were pre-treated with tanshinone IIA and stimulated with Ang II, cell proliferation and endothelin-1 (ET-1) expression were examined. The effect of tanshinone IIA on Ang II-induced reactive oxygen species (ROS) formation, and extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) phosphorylation were also examined. In addition, the effect of tanshinone IIA on nitric oxide (NO) production, and endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS) phosphorylation were tested to elucidate the intracellular mechanism. The increased cell proliferation and ET-1 expression by Ang II (100 nM) were partially inhibited by tanshinone IIA. Tanshinone IIA also inhibited Ang II-increased ROS formation, and ERK phosphorylation. In addition, tanshinone IIA was found to increase the NO generation, and eNOS phosphorylation. N(G)-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester (L-NAME), an inhibitor of NOS, and the short interfering RNA transfection for eNOS markedly attenuated the inhibitory effect of tanshinone IIA on Ang II-induced cell proliferation. The results suggest that tanshinone IIA prevents cardiac fibroblast proliferation by interfering with the generation of ROS and involves the activation of the eNOS-NO pathway.”

The December 2010 publication Salvianolic acid B inhibits SDF-1α-stimulated cell proliferation and migration of vascular smooth muscle cells by suppressing CXCR4 receptorreports: “Salvianolic acid B (Sal B), a bioactive compound from Salvia miltiorrhiza, widely used to treat cardiovascular diseases, and stromal cell-derived factor-1α (SDF-1α)/CXCR4 pathway has been correlated with balloon angioplasty-induced neointimal formation. The purposes of the present study were to investigate whether Sal B can inhibit SDF-1α/CXCR4-mediated effects on the cell proliferation and migration of vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) and to examine its possible molecular mechanisms. Under 0.5% FBS medium, all of the cellular studies were investigated on VSMCs (A10 cells) stimulated with 10ng/ml SDF-1α alone or co-treated with 0.075mg/ml Sal B. Our results showed that SDF-1α markedly stimulated the cell growth and migration of A10 cells, whose effects can be significantly reversed by co-incubation of Sal B. Similarly, Sal B also obviously down-regulated the SDF-1α-stimulated up-regulation of CXCR4 (total and cell-surface levels), Raf-1, MEK, ERK1/2, phospho-ERK1/2, FAK and phospho-FAK as well as an increase of the promoter activity of NF-κB. Besides, Sal B also effectively attenuated balloon angioplasty-induced neointimal hyperplasia. In conclusion, suppressing the expression levels of CXCR4 receptor and downstream molecules of SDF-1α/CXCR4 axis could possibly explain one of the pharmacological mechanisms of Sal B on prevention of cell proliferation, migration and subsequently neointimal hyperplasia.”

Mechanisms of action of danshen for prevention and treatment of diabetes are being discovered.

The November 2011 publication Antidiabetic Effect of the Total Polyphenolic Acids Fraction from Salvia miltiorrhiza Bunge in Diabetic Ratsreports: “An investigation was made to evaluate the therapeutic potential of the total polyphenolic acids fraction (PAF) from Salvia miltiorrhiza Bunge in the type 2 diabetes mellitus rats model with an oral dose of 187mg/kg for 28days. The results showed that PAF induced a significant decrease in fasting blood glucose (FBG), fasting blood insulin (FINS), total cholesterol (TC), triglyceride (TG) and blood urea nitrogen (BUN), and an obvious increase in insulin sensitivity index (ISI) in diabetic rats induced by a high fat diet and a low dose of streptozocin (STZ). These results suggested that PAF has antidiabetic potential in vivo.”

Danshen may help prevent anaphylaxis reactions.

Anaphylaxis is defined as “a serious allergic reaction that is rapid in onset and may cause death”.[1] It typically results in a number of symptoms including an itchy rash, throat swelling, and low blood pressure. Common causes include insect bites, foods, and medications. — On a pathophysiologic level, anaphylaxis is due to the release of mediators from certain types of white blood cells triggered either by immunologic or non-immunologic mechanisms(ref).”  The 2010 publication Tanshinones isolated from the rhizome of Salvia miltiorrhiza inhibit passive cutaneous anaphylaxis reaction in mice reports: “Aim Of The Study: This study aimed to elucidate anti-allergic effects of the root of Salvia miltiorrhiza Bunge (SM, family Labiatae) and its main constituents, tanshinones, against passive cutaneous anaphylaxis (PCA) reaction. Materials And Methods: PCA reaction was induced by IgE-antigen complex (IAC) in ICR mice. Protein expression of IL-4 and TNF-α in rat basophilic leukemia (RBL)-2H3 cells was performed by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and NF-κB and c-jun (AP-1) activation assayed by immunoblot.  Results: Tanshinones inhibited the PCA reaction and reduced IL-4 and TNF-α production in mice as well as in IAC-stimulated RBL-2H3 cells. Tanshinones also inhibited NF-κB and AP-1 activation in RBL-2H3 cells stimulated with IAC. Among tested tanshinones, tanshinone I exhibited the most potent inhibition, followed by 15,16-dihydrotanshinone I, tanshinone IIA and cryptotanshinone. Conclusions: SM and tanshinones may ameliorate the PCA reaction by inhibiting the allergic cytokines IL-4 and TNF-α via NF-κB and AP-1 pathways.”

Tanshinone IIA induces apoptosis and inhibits the proliferation, migration, and invasion of a number of cancer cell types including hepatoma, osteosarcoma, leukemia, prostate cancer, gastric cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, small-cell lung cancer and gliaoma.

This conclusion appears to be supported by a number of cell-level and mouse model studies all of which show rather similar results.

Gastric cancer

The February 2011 publication Tanshinone IIA induces growth inhibition and apoptosis in gastric cancer in vitro and in vivo reports “As a phytochemical derived from the roots of Salvia miltiorrhiza Bunge, Tanshinone IIA has been reported to possess anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity. Studies in breast, colon, prostate and lung cancer indicate that Tanshinone IIA may exhibit a promising antitumor activity. However, systemic studies of the cytotoxic effects of Tanshinone IIA on gastric cancer have not been described. The present study offers a comprehensive evaluation of the antitumor effects of Tanshinone IIA in gastric cancer cells in vitro and in a mouse xenograft model. Cell viability and apoptosis in vitro were evaluated through the MTT assay and flow cytometry analysis. The results indicate that Tanshinone IIA can induce gastric cancer cell growth inhibition and apoptosis in a time- and concentration-dependent manner. Furthermore, we investigated the mechanism of the apoptotic effects induced by Tanshinone IIA. We found that Tanshinone IIA can not only cause cell cycle arrest in the G2/M phase, but also trigger the intrinsic apoptotic signaling pathway. The results suggest that Tanshinone IIA may serve as an effective adjunctive reagent in the treatment of gastric cancer.”


The November 2011 publication Tanshinone IIA induces apoptosis and inhibits the proliferation, migration, and invasion of the osteosarcoma MG-63 cell line in vitroreports “Tanshinone IIA (Tan IIA) is an active ingredient extracted from the widely used Danshen root (Salvia miltiorrhiza Bunge), a traditional Chinese medicine. Recent studies have indicated that Tan IIA may play important roles in anticancer treatment. However, its effects on the most common primary malignant bone tumor, osteosarcoma (OS), are unknown.  — Here, we report that Tan IIA may be an efficacious anti-OS drug as it could induce cell apoptosis and inhibit proliferation, migration, and invasion in vitro. Furthermore, we detected possible molecular mechanisms for Tan IIA activity by examining the levels of Bcl-2, Bax expression, and caspase-3, caspase-8, and caspase-9 activities that regulate apoptosis, matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-2, and MMP-9 involved in regulating migration and invasion. In this study, we find that Tan IIA inhibits proliferation and induces apoptosis in the human OS cell line MG-63 in a time-dependent and dose-dependent manner. In addition, Tan IIA displays inhibitory activity on OS cell migration and invasion. Mechanistic studies have shown that Tan IIA activity is mediated by caspase activation. Tan IIA was also shown to reduce antiapoptotic Bcl-2, MMP-2, and MMP-9 levels, whereas it increased proapoptotic Bax levels. These data suggest that Tan IIA may be a novel, efficient candidate agent for OS treatment.”


The September 2011 publication Cytotoxic effect and apoptotic mechanism of tanshinone A, a novel tanshinone derivative, on human erythroleukemic K562 cells reports “Tanshinone A is a novel derivative of phenanthrene-quinone extracted from Salvia miltiorrhizaBUNGE, a traditional herbal medicine. Cytotoxic effect of tanshinone A was observed in this study. Additionally its mechanism of promoting apoptosis was also investigated. MTT and SRB assays were applied to measure the effects of tanshinone A on the cell viability, the cell cycle distribution and cell apoptosis were measured by flow cytometry using PI staining and Annexin V/PI double staining method respectively. The changes of mitochondrial membrane potential were also detected by flow cytometry. Spectrophotometric method was used to detect the changes of caspase-3 activity. Western blotting assay was used to evaluate the expression of bcl-2, bax and c-Myc proteins. Results indicated that tanshinone A displayed a significant inhibitory effect on the growth of K562 cells in a dose- and time-dependent manner, and showed obvious minor damage to LO2 cells. Tanshinone A could arrest K562 cells in the G(0)/G(1) phase and induce apoptosis, decrease the mitochondrial transmembrane potential, decrease the expressions of bcl-2 and c-Myc proteins, increase the expression of bax protein and the activity of caspase-3. Accordingly, it was presumed that the apoptosis induction maybe through the endogenous pathway. Subsequently, tanshinone A could be a promising candidate in the development of a novel antitumor agent.”


The January 2012 publication Tanshinone IIA activates calcium-dependent apoptosis signaling pathway in human hepatoma cells reports “Tanshinone IIA (Tan IIA), a natural product from herb Salvia miltiorrhizaBunge, has potential anti-tumor activity. The aim of this study was to pinpoint the molecular mechanisms underlying Tan IIA-induced cancer cell apoptosis. Human hepatoma BEL-7402 cells treated with Tan IIA underwent assessment with MTT assay for cell viability, 10-day culture for colony formation, flow cytometry and fluorescence microscopy for apoptosis and cell cycle analysis. Changes in intracellular [Ca(2+)] and mitochondrial membrane potential (∆ψ) reflected the calcium-dependent apoptosis pathway. RT-PCR was used to detect gene expression of Bad and metallothionein 1A (MT 1A). Cytotoxicity of Tan IIA was tested in human amniotic mesenchymal stem cells (HAMCs). Tan IIA exhibited dose-dependent and time-dependent anticancer effects on BEL-7402 cells through apoptosis and G(0)/G(1) arrest. Cells treated with Tan IIA increased their intracellular calcium, decreased their mitochondrial membrane potential and induced Bad and MT 1A mRNA expression. No adverse effects of Tan IIA were found in HAMCs. In conclusion, these results indicate that Tan IIA-induced cancer cell apoptosis acts via activation of calcium-dependent apoptosis signaling pathways and upregulation of MT 1A expression.”

A prior 2009 study report Tanshinone II-A inhibits invasion and metastasis of human hepatocellular carcinoma cells in vitro and in vivo reported “The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of tanshinone II-A on tumor invasion and metastasis in human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and its possible mechanism of action. — Treatment with tanshinone II-A had inhibitory effects on the migration and invasion of HCC cells. Increasing doses resulted in enhanced inhibitory effects. At 0.5 mg/L, the inhibitory effect was noticeable. At 1 mg/L, the inhibitory rate was 53.15%. The inhibitory effect became stronger with time; among 24, 48, 72 and 96 hours of treatment, the most significant effects were observed at 72 hours. Tanshinone II-A also significantly inhibited in vivo metastasis of HepG2 cells. Tanshinone II-A inhibited in vitro and in vivo invasion and metastasis of HCC cells by reducing the expression of the metalloproteinases MMP2 and MMP9 and by blocking NF-kappa B activation. — Tanshinone II-A effectively inhibited invasion and metastasis of HCC cells in vitro and in vivo, partly by inhibiting the activity of MMP2 and MMP9, and partly via the NF-kappa B signal transduction pathway.”

Prostate cancer

The 2010 publication Tanshinone IIA induces mitochondria dependent apoptosis in prostate cancer cells in association with an inhibition of phosphoinositide 3-kinase/AKT pathway reports “Tanshinone IIA (Tan IIA; 14,16-epoxy-20-nor-5(10),6,8,13,15-abietapentaene-11,12-dione), a phytochemical derived from the roots of Salvia miltiorrhizaBUNGE, has been reported to posses anti-angiogenic, anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and apoptotic activities. However, the cancer growth inhibitory/cytocidal effects and molecular mechanisms in prostate cancer cells have not been well studied. In the present study, we demonstrate that Tan IIA significantly decreased the viable cell number of LNCaP (phosphate and tensin homolog (PTEN) mutant, high AKT, wild type p53) prostate cancer cells more sensitively than against the PC-3 (PTEN null, high AKT, p53 null) prostate cancer cells. Tan IIA significantly increased TdT-mediated dUTP nick-end labeling (TUNEL) positive index and sub-G1 DNA contents of treated cells, consistent with apoptosis. Tan IIA treatment led to cleavage activation of pro-caspases-9 and 3, but not pro-caspase-8, and cleavage of poly (ADP ribose) polymerase (PARP), a caspase-3 substrate. Additionally, Tan IIA treatment induced cytochrome c release from the mitochondria into the cytosol and reduced mitochondrial membrane potential and suppressed the expression of mitochondria protective Bcl-2 family protein Mcl-1(L). Tan IIA reduced the expression of phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K) p85 subunit, and the phosphorylation of AKT and mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) in a concentration-dependent manner. Moreover, the combination of Tan IIA and LY294002, a specific PI3K inhibitor, enhanced PARP cleavage of LNCaP and PC-3, but not in MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells which do not contain detectable active AKT. The findings suggest that Tan IIA-induced apoptosis involves mitochondria intrinsic caspase activation cascade and an inhibition of the PI3K/AKT survival pathway.”

The December 2011 publication Antiandrogenic, maspin induction and anti-prostate cancer activities of tanshinone IIA and its novel derivatives with modification in ring A reports” “Expression of metastatic suppressor maspin is lost in advanced prostate cancer. Clinically-relevant mutations in androgen receptor (AR) convert antiandrogens into AR agonists, promoting prostate tumor growth. We discovered tanshinone IIA (TS-IIA) is a potent antagonist of mutated ARs and induces maspin expression through AR. TS-IIA suppressed AR expression and induced apoptosis in LNCaP cells. Syntheses of TS-IIA derivatives (1-9) revealed the 4,4-dimethyl group at ring A is important for TS-IIA’s antiandrogenic and maspin induction activities.”

The October 2011 publication Activation of p53 Signaling and Inhibition of Androgen Receptor Mediate Tanshinone IIA Induced G1 Arrest in LNCaP Prostate Cancer Cells reports: “Our group previously reported that tanshinone IIA induced apoptosis via a mitochondria dependent pathway in LNCaP prostate cancer cells. In the present study, the roles of androgen receptor (AR) and p53 signaling pathways were investigated in tanshinone IIA-induced G1 arrest in LNCaP cells. Tanshinone IIA significantly inhibited the growth and proliferation of LNCaP cells by colony formation and BrdU incorporation assays, respectively. Tanshinone IIA induced cell cycle arrest at G1 phase and down-regulated cyclin D1, CDK2 and CDK4. Furthermore, tanshinone IIA activated the phosphorylation of p53 at Ser 15 residue and its downstream p21 and p27. Additionally, tanshinone IIA suppressed the expression of AR and prostate specific antigen (PSA). Conversely, silencing p53 using its specific siRNA reversed cyclin D1 expression inhibited by tanshinone IIA. However, knockdown of AR had no effect on the p53/p21/p27 signaling pathway activated by tanshinone IIA in LNCaP cells. In AR siRNA-transfected cells, tanshinone IIA did not cause cell cycle arrest and reduce cyclin D1, implying that AR is essential to induce G1 arrest by tanshinone IIA in LNCaP cells. Taken together, the findings suggest that tanshinone IIA induces G1 arrest via activation of p53 signaling and inhibition of AR in LNCaP cells.”

5,16-dihydrotanshinone I (DHTS), another component of Denshen, is effective in killing prostate cancer cells via a different mechanism than that employed by tanshinone IIA.  The 2011 document 15,16-Dihydrotanshinone I, a Compound of Salvia miltiorrhiza Bunge, Induces Apoptosis through Inducing Endoplasmic Reticular Stress in Human Prostate Carcinoma Cells reports: “5,16-dihydrotanshinone I (DHTS) is extracted from Salvia miltiorrhizaBunge (tanshen root) and was found to be the most effective compound of tanshen extracts against breast cancer cells in our previous studies. However, whether DHTS can induce apoptosis through an endoplasmic reticular (ER) stress pathway was examined herein. In this study, we found that DHTS significantly inhibited the proliferation of human prostate DU145 carcinoma cells and induced apoptosis. DHTS was able to induce ER stress as evidenced by the upregulation of glucose regulation protein 78 (GRP78/Bip) and CAAT/enhancer binding protein homologous protein/growth arrest- and DNA damage-inducible gene 153 (CHOP/GADD153), as well as increases in phosphorylated eukaryotic initiation factor 2α (eIF2α), c-jun N-terminal kinase (JNK), and X-box-binding protein 1 (XBP1) mRNA splicing forms. DHTS treatment also caused significant accumulation of polyubiquitinated proteins and hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF)-1α, indicating that DHTS might be a proteasome inhibitor that is known to induce ER stress or enhance apoptosis caused by the classic ER stress-dependent mechanism. Moreover, DHTS-induced apoptosis was reversed by salubrinal, an ER stress inhibitor. Results suggest that DHTS can induce apoptosis of prostate carcinoma cells via induction of ER stress and/or inhibition of proteasome activity, and may have therapeutic potential for prostate cancer patients.”

Breast cancer

The October 2008 publication Tanshinone I suppresses growth and invasion of human breast cancer cells, MDA-MB-231, through regulation of adhesion molecules reported: “The role of cell adhesion molecules has been studied extensively in the process of inflammation, and these molecules are critical components of carcinogenesis and cancer metastasis. This study investigated the effect of tanshinone I derived from the traditional herbal medicine, Salvia miltiorrhiza Bunge, on the expression of intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1) and vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1) in tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α)-stimulated endothelial cells. Furthermore, this study investigated the effect of tanshinone I on cancer growth, invasion and angiogenesis on human breast cancer cells MDA-MB-231, both in vitro and in vivo. Tanshinone I dose dependently inhibited ICAM-1 and VCAM-1 expressions in human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) that were stimulated with TNF-α for 6 h. Pretreatment with tanshinone I significantly reduced adhesion of either monocyte U937 or MDA-MB-231 cells to HUVECs. Interestingly, the inhibitory effect of tanshinone I on monocyte and cancer cell adhesion to HUVECs was mimicked by transfection with ICAM-1 and VCAM-1 small interfering RNA. In addition, tanshinone I effectively inhibited TNF-α-induced production of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and VEGF-mediated tube formation in HUVECs. Tanshinone I also inhibited TNF-α-induced VEGF production in MDA-MB-231 cells and migration of MDA-MB-231 cells through extracellular matrix. Additionally, reduction of tumor mass volume and decrease of metastasis incidents by tanshinone I were observed in vivo. In conclusion, this study provides a potential mechanism for the anticancer effect of tanshinone I on breast cancer cells, suggesting that tanshinone I may serve as an effective drug for the treatment of breast cancer.”

Lung cancer

The 2008 publication Anticancer effects of tanshinone I in human non-small cell lung cancer reported: “Tanshinones are the major bioactive compounds of Salvia miltiorrhiza Bunge (Danshen) roots, which are used in many therapeutic remedies in Chinese traditional medicine. We investigated the anticancer effects of tanshinones on the highly invasive human lung adenocarcinoma cell line, CL1-5. Tanshinone I significantly inhibited migration, invasion, and gelatinase activity in macrophage-conditioned medium-stimulated CL1-5 cells in vitro and also reduced the tumorigenesis and metastasis in CL1-5-bearing severe combined immunodeficient mice. Unlike tanshinone IIA, which induces cell apoptosis, tanshinone I did not have direct cytotoxicity. Real-time quantitative PCR, luciferase reporter assay, and electrophoretic mobility shift assay revealed that tanshinone I reduces the transcriptional activity of interleukin-8, the angiogenic factor involved in cancer metastasis, by attenuating the DNA-binding activity of activator protein-1 and nuclear factor-κB in conditioned medium-stimulated CL1-5 cells. Microarray and pathway analysis of tumor-related genes identified the differentially expressed genes responding to tanshinone I, which may be associated with the Ras-mitogen-activated protein kinase and Rac1 signaling pathways. These results suggest that tanshinone I exhibits anticancer effects both in vitro and in vivo and that these effects are mediated at least partly through the interleukin-8, Ras-mitogen-activated protein kinase, and Rac1 signaling pathways. Although tanshinone I has a remarkable anticancer action, its potential anticoagulant effect should be noted and evaluated.”


The 2010 publication Tanshinone IIA inhibits constitutive STAT3 activation, suppresses proliferation, and induces apoptosis in rat C6 glioma cells reported: “Signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3) is usually constitutively activated in a variety of malignancies. Thus, STAT3 may be a promising target for treatment of tumor cells. Recently, Tanshinone IIA (Tan IIA), a major active constituent from the root of Salvia miltiorrhiza Bunge, was reported to have apoptosis inducing effects on a large variety of cancer cells. In this study, we evaluate the anti-proliferation and apoptosis inducing effects of Tan IIA on C6 glioma cells. Cell growth and proliferation were measured by MTT assay, cell apoptosis was observed by flow cytometry and DNA-fragmentation analysis. Further more, we investigated inhibitory effects of Tan IIA on STAT3 activity and its downstream targets: Bcl-XL, cyclin D1. Alteration of STAT3 activity was examined by measuring their DNA binding activity and tyrosine phosphorylation. Changes in the expression levels of Bcl-XL and cyclin D1 were examined by Western blot analysis. We found that the cellular growth were inhibited and cell apoptosis were observed after the treatment with Tan IIA. The STAT3 activity was significantly reduced by Tan IIA parallel with a significant attenuation of expression of Bcl-XL and cyclin D1. These results suggest that Tan IIA may serve as an effective adjunctive reagent in the treatment of glioma for its targeting of constitutive STAT3 signaling.”

Colon cancer

A 2009 publication Inhibitory effects of tanshinone II-A on invasion and metastasis of human colon carcinoma cells reports much the same story for colon cancer:  Aim: To investigate the effects and possible mechanisms of tanshinone II-A, an alcohol extract of the root of Salvia miltiorrhizaBunge, on tumor invasion and metastasis of human colon carcinoma (CRC) cells.  Methods: The effects of tanshinone II-A on invasion and metastasis of CRC cell lines HT29 and SW480 were evaluated by in vitro and in vivo assays. Western blotting was used to investigate possible molecular mechanisms of tanshinone II-A anti-cancer actions. Results: Tanshinone II-A inhibited migration and invasion of CRC cells in a dose-dependent manner. The inhibitory effect also depended on time, with the most significant effects observed at 72 h. Tanshinone II-A also significantly inhibited in vivo metastasis of colon carcinoma SW480 cells. It inhibited in vitro and in vivo invasion and metastasis of CRC cells by reducing levels of urokinase plasminogen activator (uPA) and matrix metalloproteinases (MMP)-2 and MMP-9, and by increasing levels of tissue inhibitor of matrix metalloproteinase protein (TIMP)-1 and TIMP-2. Tanshinone II-A was also shown to suppress the nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-kappaB) signal. Conclusion: Tanshinone II-A inhibited in vitro and in vivo invasion and metastasis of CRC cells. The effect resulted from changes in the levels of uPA, MMP-2, MMP-9, TIMP-1 and TIMP-2, and apparent inhibition of the NF-kappaB signal transduction pathway.”

Tanshinone II-A inhibits angiogenesis in cancers.

The November 2011 publication Anti-angiogenic effect of Tanshinone IIA involves inhibition of matrix invasion and modification of MMP-2/TIMP-2 secretion in vascular endothelial cells reports: “Tanshinone IIA (Tan IIA) is one of the major lipophilic components of Salvia miltiorrhizaBunge reported to exhibit anti-carcinogenic effect. In the present study, we further evaluated the anti-angiogenic effect of Tan IIA using the chorioallantoic membrane (CAM) in chicken embryos and human umbilical vascular endothelial cells (HUVECs). Tan IIA was confirmed to inhibit in vivo angiogenesis by CAM assay. Tan IIA also exhibited in vitro anti-angiogenic effects as demonstrated by tube formation assay, transwell migration assay and TNF-α-induced matrix invasion assay. The mRNA expressions of matrix metalloproteinase-2, -3, -9, -14 (MMP-2, -3, -9, -14), tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase-2 (TIMP-2) and reversion-inducing cysteine-rich protein with kazal motifs (RECK) were not affected by Tan IIA as analyzed by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). However, the extracellular matrix metalloproteinase-2 (MMP-2) activity was found to be reduced dose-dependently by Tan IIA as determined by gelatin zymography. Results from western blot analysis and ELISA further demonstrated the dose-dependent decrease of MMP-2 and increase of TIMP-2 secretion from cytosol of vascular endothelial cells simultaneously after Tan IIA treatment. Together, the present study confirmed the anti-angiogenic effects of Tan IIA both in vivo and in vitro. Our results also demonstrated that Tan IIA could modulate the secretion of MMP-2 and TIMP-2 in an opposite way and resulted in the decreased MMP-2 activity of vascular endothelial cells.”

Cryptotanshinone, another component of danshen, is a potent stimulator of ER stress, leading to apoptosis in many cancer cell lines.

The November 2011 publication Cryptotanshinone induces ER stress-mediated apoptosis in HepG2 and MCF7 cellsreports: “The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is a central organelle in eukaryotic cells that functions in protein synthesis and maturation, and also functions as a calcium storage organelle. Perturbation of ER functions leads to ER stress, which has been previously associated with a broad variety of diseases. ER stress is generally regarded as compensatory, but prolonged ER stress can activate apoptotic pathways in damaged cells. For this reason, pharmacological interventions that effectively enhance tumor death through ER stress have been the subject of a great deal of attention for anti-cancer therapy. Cryptotanshinone, the major active constituent isolated from the root of Salvia miltiorrhiza Bunge, has been recently evaluated for its anti-cancer activity, but the molecular mechanisms underlying these activities remain poorly understood. In particular, it remains completely unknown as to whether or not cryptotanshinone can induce ER stress. Herein, we identify cryptotanshinone as a potent stimulator of ER stress, leading to apoptosis in many cancer cell lines, including HepG2 hepatoma and MCF7 breast carcinoma, and also demonstrate that mitogen-activated protein kinases function as mediators in this process. Reactive oxygen species generated by cryptotanshinone have been shown to play a critical role in ER stress-induced apoptosis. Cryptotanshinone also evidenced sensitizing effects to a broad range of anti-cancer agents including Fas/Apo-1, TNF-α, cisplatin, etoposide or 5-FU through inducing ER stress, highlighting the therapeutic potential in the treatment of human hepatoma and breast cancer.”

Tanshinone IIA can possibly help prevent liver fibrosis

The 2010 publication Tanshinone II A induces apoptosis and S phase cell cycle arrest in activated rat hepatic stellate cells reports: “Tanshinone IIA, a major component extracted from the traditional herbal medicine, Salvia miltiorrhiza Bunge, improves blood circulation and treats chronic hepatitis and hepatic fibrosis. Activation of hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) is the predominant event in liver fibrosis. The therapeutic goal in liver fibrosis is the reversal of fibrosis and selective clearance of activated HSCs. We used rat HSCs transformed by Simian virus 40 (t-HSC/Cl-6) to overcome the limitations inherent in studying subcultures of HSCs. Treatment of t-HSC/Cl-6 cells with tanshinone IIA inhibited cell viability in a dose- and time-dependent manner. Tanshinone IIA induced apoptosis as demonstrated by DNA fragmentation, poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase and caspase-3 cleavage, increased Bax/Bcl-2 protein ratio, and depolarization of mitochondrial membranes to facilitate cytochrome c release into the cytosol. Furthermore, this compound markedly induced S phase cell cycle arrest, and down-regulated cyclins A and E, and cdk2. Thus, tanshinone IIA induces apoptosis and S phase cell cycle arrest in rat HSCs in vitro.”

Danshen downregulates telomerase expression

The December 2011 publication  Ortho-Quinone tanshinones directly inhibit telomerase through an oxidative mechanism mediated by hydrogen peroxide reports: “The tanshinone natural products possess a variety of pharmacological properties including anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and anti-neoplastic activity. The molecular basis of these effects, however, remains largely unknown. In the present study, we explored the direct effect of tanshinones on the enzyme telomerase. Telomerase is up-regulated in the majority of cancer cells and is essential for their survival, making it a potential anti-cancer drug target. We found that the ortho-quinone tanshinone II-A inhibits telomerase in a time- and DTT-dependent fashion, and the hydrogen peroxide scavenger catalase protected telomerase from inactivation. These findings demonstrate that ortho-quinone containing tanshinones can inhibit telomerase owing to their ability to generate reactive oxygen species. The results also provide evidence that telomerase is directly and negatively regulated by reactive oxygen species.”

Danshen-based drugs have entered the clinical trials mill.

A search in reveals two clinical trials involving danshen, one completed.  An October 2010 “Herbal Egram” reported  A patented Chinese herbal medicine has successfully completed Phase II clinical trials in the United States and will soon begin Phase III investigations, raising the possibility that it could become the first Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) product to obtain drug approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).1 — The product, Compound Danshen Dripping Pill (also referred to as Cardiotonic Pill), is produced by Tianjin Tasly Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. in Tianjin, China. It contains the extract of the root of Chinese salvia (Salvia miltiorrhiza; known as danshen in Chinese), the extract of the root of notoginseng (Panax notoginseng; known as sanchi or tien-chi ginseng), and synthetic borneol, an active ingredient that replaces the more expensive natural borneol found in cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum var. cardamomum), ginger (Zingiber officinale), and other spices.1,2,3 According to Tasly’s website, the pill is sold as a prescription drug in China, Vietnam, Pakistan, South Korea, India, and the United Arab Emirates and reportedly is taken by about 10 million people every year to treat angina and coronary heart diseases.3 Last year, its international sales brought in a reported $148 million. “

A few comments

There is much more to the literature of danshen than I have been able to cite here.  Near as I know, salvia miltiorrhiza Bunge is not employed in Western medical practice.  Although Chinese and Korean researchers have been working to close the gap between Chinese traditional medical practice and what goes on in Western Medicine, there is still a long way to go.  The studies reported here are mostly in-vitro cell-level studies with limited in-vivo support that can be done by a small number of researchers with conventional laboratory tools like western blotting, microscopic, flow cytometry, colony formation and DNA-fragmentation analysis and a few mice or rats.  Though very promising, the studies still leave a large gap between cell-level knowledge and the anecdotal positive disease outcomes with humans observed in traditional Chinese Medicine practice.  Does danshen treatment slow down or stop cancers in mice?  Which ones?  How effectively? We don’t know for sure.  Still to be done are animal model disease outcome studies and then more clinical trials. 

Seriously, in going through hundreds of literature abstracts to create this blog entry, I have not come a single non-Chinese or non-Korean researcher-author name.  Perhaps it is time for a big Western pharma companies to pick this substance up and run with it.

About Vince Giuliano

Being a follower, connoisseur, and interpreter of longevity research is my latest career. I have been at this part-time for well over a decade, and in 2007 this became my mainline activity. In earlier reincarnations of my career. I was founding dean of a graduate school and a university professor at the State University of New York, a senior consultant working in a variety of fields at Arthur D. Little, Inc., Chief Scientist and C00 of Mirror Systems, a software company, and an international Internet consultant. I got off the ground with one of the earliest PhD's from Harvard in a field later to become known as computer science. Because there was no academic field of computer science at the time, to get through I had to qualify myself in hard sciences, so my studies focused heavily on quantum physics. In various ways I contributed to the Computer Revolution starting in the 1950s and the Internet Revolution starting in the late 1980s. I am now engaged in doing the same for The Longevity Revolution. I have published something like 200 books and papers as well as over 430 substantive.entries in this blog, and have enjoyed various periods of notoriety. If you do a Google search on Vincent E. Giuliano, most if not all of the entries on the first few pages that come up will be ones relating to me. I have a general writings site at and an extensive site of my art at Please note that I have recently changed my mailbox to
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7 Responses to Focus on phytosubstances – Danshen root – amazing properties of salvia miltiorrhiza Bunge

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  2. eric25001 says:

    An article just came out on a root extract, commonly known as Chang Shan, from a type of hydrangea that grows in Tibet and Nepalthat

    It links the properties of it to the blocking of proline (Non essential amino acid.)

    Halofuginone and other febrifugine derivatives inhibit prolyl-tRNA synthetase
    Tracy L Keller,1 Davide Zocco,1 Mark S Sundrud,2 Margaret Hendrick,1 Maja Edenius,1 Jinah Yum,3 Yeon-Jin Kim,3 Hak-Kyo Lee,4 Joseph F Cortese,5 Dyann F Wirth,5, 6 John David Dignam,7 Anjana Rao,2, 9 Chang-Yeol Yeo,1, 3 Ralph Mazitschek5, 8 & Malcolm Whitman1
    Affiliations Contributions Corresponding authors Journal name:
    Nature Chemical Biology
    Year published:
    Received 27 May 2011 Accepted 22 November 2011 Published online 12 February 2012

    What is interesting is the anti inflamitory properties as well as well as added proline blocked the effects.

    Hmm! Protein, blocking protein – inflamation — AGING

    For roughly two thousand years, Chinese herbalists have treated Malaria using a root extract, commonly known as Chang Shan, from a type of hydrangea that grows in Tibet and Nepal. More recent studies suggest that halofuginone, a compound derived from this extract’s bioactive ingredient, could be used to treat many autoimmune disorders as well. Now, researchers from the Harvard School of Dental Medicine have discovered the molecular secrets behind this herbal extract’s power.

    Will a synthetic drug version be comming soon? Can the principle be used to find or develop other amino acid blocking chemicals. Maybe restrict Methionine?

    Too Much Methionine Appears to be Bad For Mammals

    • Eric

      Thanks for the tip on Chang Shan and the recent research. I will look into it. As you know I have a growing interest in Chinese and other traditional medicines and have written many blog articles on them. Have you seen my latest blog entry on Epimedium (Horny Goat Weed) at ? It is interesting that extensive research has been conducted in China on both epimedium and Danshen root and virtually none in the US. Personally, I think we are likely to see in the coming decade either or both of 1. big pharma companies picking up traditional Chinese and other folk remedies, making proprietary counterparts and selling them as expensive drugs or 2. a very painfully slow emerging realiation that some of the traditional remidies are actually better than existing drugs and the supplement market for those remedies growing accordingly – and physicians starting to wake up to the power of those substances, perhaps 30 years late. Of course impending legislation for FDA regulation of supplements could delay this waking up much longer. The Pubmed database lists 4,615 research articles on curcumin. It is undoubtably efficaceous aainst several cancers and other diseases. Yet few practicing physicians have heard of it, let alone recommend it to their patients.

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