Research Highlight

Cracking the histone code

Subhra Priyadarshini

doi:10.1038/nindia.2008.159 Published online 25 March 2008

Kulbhushan Tikoo (sitting) with co-researchers

Curcumin, the main ingredient of Indian spice turmeric, provides protection against diabetic nephropathy, a kidney abnormality triggered by diabetes. New research has now pinpointed how this works.

Curcumin plays a role in modifying the histones (proteins that wrap up DNA to form chromatin), in turn bolstering the anti-oxidant defense system of the body, an epigenetic study on rats has concluded.

A research team from the National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research (NIPER), Punjab, designed a series of experiments to unravel this protective effect of curcumin. "Curcumin has been used to treat cancer, diabetes and other pathologies. However, little was known regarding its role in bringing about change in histone H3," says lead researcher Kulbhushan Tikoo.

In diabetes, there are changes in the 'histone code' which result in modifying gene expression and lead to the major microvascular complication — diabetic nephropathy. Curcumin was found to decrease the oxidative stress by boosting the anti-oxidant defense system of the body and improving biochemical alterations that resulted in better health.

The team underpinned the role of histone code acting as a prelude to the disease progression and development. The finding could have implications in drug design and developmental programmes targeting diabetes and its complications.


  1. Tikoo, K. et al. Change in post-translational modifications of histone H3, heat-shock protein-27 and MAP kinase p38 expression by curcumin in streptozotocin-induced type I diabetic nephropathy. Brit. J. Pharmacol. 153, 1225-1231 (2008)