Leukemia and Honey Bee venom

Dr. Weeks’ Comment: You have been stung by a bee and what happened? You swelled up and itched and got a red area all because you have an up and running immune system! Bee venom enhances immune response as does mistletoe and other irritants. But bee venom has many powerful peptides which do myriad benefits. Here is a lecture I gave on bee venom and apitherapy years ago but read below for specific articles on bee venom and leukemia.


Cancer Metastasis Rev.2012 Jun;31(1-2):173-94. doi: 10.1007/s10555-011-9339-3.

Bee venom in cancer therapy.

Oršolić N


Bee venom (BV) (api-toxin) has been widely used in the treatment of some immune-related diseases, as well as in recent times in treatment of tumors. Several cancer cells, including renal, lung, liver, prostate, bladder, and mammary cancer cells as well as leukemia cells, can be targets of bee venom peptides such as melittin and phospholipase A2. The cell cytotoxic effects through the activation of PLA2 by melittin have been suggested to be the critical mechanism for the anti-cancer activity of BV. The induction of apoptotic cell death through several cancer cell death mechanisms, including the activation of caspase and matrix metalloproteinases, is important for the melittin-induced anti-cancer effects. The conjugation of cell lytic peptide (melittin) with hormone receptors and gene therapy carrying melittin can be useful as a novel targeted therapy for some types of cancer, such as prostate and breast cancer. This review summarizes the current knowledge regarding potential of bee venom and its compounds such as melittin to induce cytotoxic, antitumor, immunomodulatory, and apoptotic effects in different tumor cells in vivo or in vitro. The recent applications of melittin in various cancers and a molecular explanation for the antiproliferative properties of bee venom are discussed.


J Cancer Res Ther.2017 Jul-Sep;13(3):544-549. doi: 10.4103/0973-1482.183220.

Honey bee venom combined with 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3as a highly efficient inducer of differentiation in human acute myeloid leukemia cells.

Mohseni-Kouchesfahani H1, Nabioni M1, Khosravi Z2, Rahimi M2.


Most cancer cells exhibit a defect in their capacity to mature into nonreplicating adult cells and existing in a highly proliferating state. Differentiation therapy by agents such as 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3(1,25-(OH)2 VD3) represents a useful approach for the treatment of cancer including acute myeloid leukemia. Human myeloid leukemia cell lines are induced to terminal differentiation into monocyte lineage by 1,25-(OH)2 VD3. However, usage of these findings in the clinical trials is limited by calcemic effects of 1,25-(OH)2 VD3. Attempts to overcome this problem have focused on a combination of low concentrations 1,25-(OH)2 VD3 with other compounds to induce differentiation of HL-60 cells. In this study, the effect of honey bee venom (BV) and 1,25-(OH)2 VD3, individually and in combination, on proliferation and differentiation of human myeloid leukemia HL-60 cells were assayed.


Our findings showed that both the BV and 1,25-(OH)2 VD3, in a dose and time-dependent manner, caused cell death at high concentrations and inhibited cell proliferation at lower concentrations. About 5 nM of 1,25-(OH)2 VD3 induced differentiation of HL-60 cells to monocytes after 72 h. 2.5 μg/ml of BV suppressed proliferation of HL-60 cells but had not any effects on their differentiation, whereas in combination with 5 nM of 1,25-(OH)2 VD3, it enhanced antiproliferative and differentiation potency of 1,25-(OH)2 VD3.


These results indicate that BV potentiates the 1,25-(OH)2 VD3-induced HL-60 cell differentiation into monocytes.


J Venom Anim Toxins Incl Trop Dis.2013 Oct 3;19(1):25. doi: 10.1186/1678-9199-19-25.

Potentiation of a novel palladium (II) complex lethality with bee venom on the human T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia cell line (MOLT-4).

Safaeinejad Z1, Nabiuni MNazari Z.


Although honeybee venom (BV) has been reported to induce apoptosis in different types of cancerous cells, its synergistic effects with customary anti-cancer drugs remain largely unknown. In the present study, we evaluated the cytotoxic effect of BV alone (as a natural product) and the synergistic cytological effects of this component in combination with [Pd (bpy) (Pi-Pydtc)]NO3 – a novel palladium complex on human T-cell lymphoblastic leukemia cells. To investigate the cytotoxic effect of the BV alone and in combination with palladium complex on MOLT-4 cells MTT assay was performed. In order to determine the apoptotic effects of BV separately and in combination with Pd (II) complex on these cells and its ability to induce apoptosis, morphological examination, flowcytometric analysis and caspase-3 colorimetric assay were done.


We found that BV induced morphological changes, namely nuclear shrinkage, and inhibited MOLT-4 cell proliferation; both effects were dose- and time-dependent. Flow cytometry by Annexin-V antibody demonstrated that BV induced apoptosis in MOLT-4 cells. Furthermore, BV induced apoptosis independently of caspase-3 in these cells. In addition, we proved a clear synergistic effect of BV on [Pd (bpy) (Pi-Pydtc)]NO3. The apoptotic pathway activated by BV in combination with Pd complex was caspase-3-dependent.


These observations provide an explanation for the anti-proliferative properties of BV, and suggest that this agent may be useful for treating lymphoblastic leukemia alone or in combination with chemotherapy drugs pending further investigations on animal models as preclinical tests.



ACS Nano.2013 Oct 22;7(10):8605-15. doi: 10.1021/nn403311c. Epub 2013 Sep 26.

Mechanisms of nanoparticle-mediated siRNA transfection by melittin-derived peptides.

Hou KK1, Pan HRatner LSchlesinger PHWickline SA.


Traditional peptide-mediated siRNA transfection via peptide transduction domains exhibits limited cytoplasmic delivery of siRNA due to endosomal entrapment. This work overcomes these limitations with the use of membrane-destabilizing peptides derived from melittin for the knockdown of NFkB signaling in a model of adult T-cell leukemia/lymphoma. (Dr Weeks comment: Melittin is a peptide in bee venom) While the mechanism of siRNA delivery into the cytoplasmic compartment by peptide transduction domains has not been well studied, our analysis of melittin derivatives indicates that concurrent nanocomplex disassembly and peptide-mediated endosomolysis are crucial to siRNA transfection. Importantly, in the case of the most active derivative, p5RHH, this process is initiated by acidic pH, indicating that endosomal acidification after macropinocytosis can trigger siRNA release into the cytoplasm. These data provide general principles regarding nanocomplex response to endocytosis, which may guide the development of peptide/siRNA nanocomplex-based transfection.


Toxicon.1999 Nov;37(11):1605-19.

Melittin activates endogenous phospholipase D during cytolysis of human monocytic leukemia cells.

Saini SS1, Chopra AKPeterson JW.


Human monocytic leukemia cells (U937) were challenged with synthetic melittin, and arachidonic acid (AA)/acylated lipids from both cells (pellet) and media (supernatant) were analyzed by thin layer chromatography (TLC). From these data, melittin-mediated activation/inhibition of major phospholipases in U937 cells was related to pore formation, permeabilization and cytolysis as determined by light microscopy. Also, the effect of melittin on acylhydrolase activity in the cell-free sonicated lysates of U937 cells was examined. Here we report that synthetic melittin (1 microM) caused cytolysis of U937 cells within 10-15 min. Cellular hypertrophy (5 min) and aggregation (1 min) preceded cytolysis. TLC analysis of these lipids showed that total levels (cellular + medium) of diacylglycerol (DAG), phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) and phosphatidylcholine (PC) decreased, while that of arachidonic acid (AA) increased continuously (5-30 min). However, levels of phosphatidylethanol (PEt) phosphatidic acid (PA) and phosphatidylserine (PS) were increased transiently at 5-10 min being maximal at 5 min. Taken together, the combined levels of PEt and PA (an end product of phopholipase D, PLD) were about 42-fold higher than the level of AA at 5-10 min. Enhancement of AA levels appeared to result from in vitro reactions of various acylhydrolases and their phospholipid substrates (free/membrane bound) liberated into the medium during pore formation/cell lysis. Incubation of sonicated cell lysates also enhanced release of AA, which decreased upon addition of melittin, indicating that melittin inhibited these acylhydrolases. A consistent decrease in the level of DAG showed that phospholipase C was unaffected. Hence, transient activation of PLD by melittin at the point of initiation of cytolysis, suggested a role for PLD in melittin-mediated membrane disruption/cytolysis by an uncharacterized signal transduction mechanism.

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