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Secondary metabolites (essential oils) from sand-dune plants induce cytotoxic effects in cancer cells

Beeby, Ellie; Magalhães, Mariana; Poças, Juliana; Collins, Thomas; Lemos, Marco; Barros, Lillian; Ferreira, Isabel; Cabral, Célia; Pires, Isabel M.


Ellie Beeby

Mariana Magalhães

Juliana Poças

Thomas Collins

Marco Lemos

Lillian Barros

Isabel Ferreira

Célia Cabral


Ethnopharmacological relevance: Despite advances in modern therapeutic strategies, cancer remains the second leading cause of death worldwide. Therefore, there is a constant need to develop more efficient anticancer targeting strategies. The anticancer therapeutic proprieties of medicinal plants and their bioactive compounds have been reported for several years, making natural extracts and/or compounds derived from these a promising source of novel anticancer agents. Sand dune plants are subjected to severe environmental stresses, leading to the development of adaptations, including the production of secondary metabolites with a wide range of bioactivities, such as: anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antiseptic, hypoglycaemic, hypotensive, antinociceptive, antioxidant and anticancer. Aim of the study: The anticancer potential of sand dune plants remains under-investigated, so this research describes the characterisation of the composition of bioactive EOs from sand-dune plants of Peniche (Portugal), and assessment of their activity in vitro and potential mechanism of action. Materials and Methods: EOs were extracted from six sand-dune species of plants from Peniche sand dunes: Crithmum maritimum L., Seseli tortuosum L., Artemisia campestris subsp. maritima (DC.) Arcang., Juniperus phoenicea var. turbinata (Guss.) Parl., Otanthus maritimus (L.) Hoffmanns. & Link, and Eryngium maritimum L.. EOs composition was fully characterised chemically using Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS). The assessment of anticancer activity and mechanism of action was performed in vitro using breast and colorectal cancer 2D and 3D spheroid cell line models, through cell proliferation assay, western blotting analysis, and cell cycle analysis. Results: EOs from the majority of the species tested (S. tortuosum, A. campestris subsp. maritima, O. maritimus, and E. maritimum) were mainly composed by hydrocarbon compounds (sequisterpenes and monoterpenes), showing antiproliferative activity in both 2D and 3D models. EO extracted from S. tortuosum and O. maritimus were identified as having the lowest IC50 values for both cell lines when compared with the other species tested. Furthermore, this antiproliferative activity was associated with increased p21 expression and induction of apoptosis. Conclusions: The present study suggests that EOs extracted from S. tortuosum and O. maritimus present promising cytotoxic properties. Further evaluation of the extracts and their key components as potential anticancer agents should therefore be explored.


Beeby, E., Magalhães, M., Poças, J., Collins, T., Lemos, M., Barros, L., …Pires, I. M. (2020). Secondary metabolites (essential oils) from sand-dune plants induce cytotoxic effects in cancer cells. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 258, Article 112803.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 25, 2020
Online Publication Date Apr 3, 2020
Publication Date Aug 10, 2020
Deposit Date Mar 30, 2020
Publicly Available Date Apr 4, 2021
Journal Journal of Ethnopharmacology
Print ISSN 0378-8741
Electronic ISSN 1872-7573
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 258
Article Number 112803
Keywords Sand-dune plants; Essential oils; Natural products; Antitumoral properties
Public URL
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