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Propylparaben induces apoptotic cell death in human placental BeWo cells via cell cycle arrest and enhanced caspase-3 activity

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Propylparaben is one of the most commonly used preservatives in pharmaceuticals, food items, and personal care products. However, growing evidence demonstrates that propylparaben has a harmful effect on various human tissues. In this study, we investigated the cytotoxic effects of propylparaben on the human placental cell line, BeWo.


We investigated whether propylparaben caused placental cell death using relevant cytotoxic endpoints, including cell viability, proliferation, cell cycle, and apoptosis, in BeWo cells. However, instead of using conventional methods of protein analysis from pooled samples, we precisely quantified protein expression at the single cell level by flow cytometric analysis.


Propylparaben significantly reduced cell viability in a dose-dependent manner. It induced cell cycle arrest at the sub-G1 phase by reducing the expression levels of cyclin D1, whereas the cell population at the G0/G1 and S-phases was decreased. Furthermore, propylparaben induced apoptosis by enhancing the activity of caspase-3.


Collectively, our results suggest that propylparaben causes cytotoxic effects in human placental BeWo cells by inducing cell cycle arrest and apoptosis.

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Korea Environment Industry & Technology Institute (KEITI) through “The Environmental Health Action Program” funded by Korea Ministry of Environment (MOE), Grant and Award number: 2017001360007. This research was also supported by the Chung-Ang University Research Grants in 2018. We would like to thank Editage (www.editage.co.kr) for English language editing.

Author information

Overall conceptualization, MJK, C-HKim, J-W K; Methodology and investigation, MJK, C-HK, M-JA, J-HL, G-SS, JY H, and J-WK; Data analysis, JP, MS, HWo, Y-hK, and J-WK; Statistical comments, JP, HW, and Y-hK; Writing–original draft, MJK, C-HK, MS, and J-WK; Writing–review and editing, MJK, C-HK, SR, and J-WK; Funding acquisition, J-WK; Supervision and project administration, J-WK.

Correspondence to Jung-Woong Kim.

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Mi Jin Kim, Chul-Hong Kim, Mi-Jin An, Ju-Hyun Lee, Geun-Seup Shin, Hwang Jae Yoon, Jinhong Park, Mina Song, Hoyoung Woo, Yeong-hwa Kim, Sangmyung Rhee, and Jung-Woong Kim declare that they have no conflict of interests.

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Kim, M.J., Kim, C., An, M. et al. Propylparaben induces apoptotic cell death in human placental BeWo cells via cell cycle arrest and enhanced caspase-3 activity. Mol. Cell. Toxicol. 16, 83–92 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13273-019-00062-9

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  • Propylparaben
  • Apoptosis
  • Caspase-3
  • Cell cycle arrest
  • Human placenta cells
  • BeWo