Sophorolipids: Anti-cancer activities and mechanisms

T. Rebecca Miceli, T. David Corr, M. Margarida Barroso, Navneet Dogra, A. Richard Gross

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Sophorolipids (SLs) are biosurfactants synthesized as secondary metabolites by non-pathogenic yeasts and other microorganisms. They are members of glycolipid microbial surfactant family that consists of a sophorose polar head group and, most often, an ω-1 hydroxylated fatty acid glycosidically linked to the sophorose moiety. Since the fermentative production of SLs is high (>200 g/L), SLs have the potential to provide low-cost therapeutics. Natural and modified SLs possess anti-cancer activity against a wide range of cancer cell lines such as those derived from breast, cervical, colon, liver, brain, and the pancreas. Corresponding data on their cytotoxicity against noncancerous cell lines including human embryo kidney, umbilical vein, and mouse fibroblasts is also discussed. These results are compiled to elucidate trends in SL-structures that lead to higher efficacy against cancer cell lines and lower cytotoxicity for normal cell lines. While extrapolation of these results provides some insights into the design of SLs with optimal therapeutic indices, we also provide a critical assessment of gaps and inconsistencies in the literature as well as the lack of data connecting structure-to-anticancer and cytotoxicity on normal cells. Furthermore, SL-mechanism of action against cancer cell lines, that includes proliferation inhibition, induction of apoptosis, membrane disruption and mitochondria mediated pathways are discussed. Perspectives on future research to develop SL anticancer therapeutics is discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116787
JournalBioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2022


  • Analogues
  • Anticancer
  • Cancer cell lines
  • Cytotoxicity
  • Mechanism
  • Sophorolipids


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