- Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a malignancy without effective treatment for most patients. Here we demonstrate that combinations of the dietary plant polyphenols--curcumin and carnosic acid--at noncytotoxic concentrations of each agent, produced a synergistic antiproliferative effect and a massive apoptotic cell death in HL-60 and KG-1a human AML cells. In contrast, combinations of curcumin and another plant polyphenol silibinin had a predominantly additive cytostatic effect, without pronounced cytotoxicity. Neither polyphenol combination affected viability of normal human fibroblasts or proliferating and nonproliferating blood cells. Early stage of curcumin/carnosic acid-induced apoptosis was associated with cleavage (activation) of caspase-8, caspase-9, and caspase-3 and the proapoptotic protein Bid, but not with oxidative stress or altered levels of other Bcl-2 family proteins (Bcl-2, Bcl-xl, Mcl-1, Bax, and Bak). Inhibitors of caspase-8 and caspase-9 markedly attenuated apoptosis, indicating the involvement of both extrinsic and intrinsic apoptotic pathways. Caspase-8 inhibition abrogated Bid cleavage and strongly reduced caspase-9 activation, suggesting that the cross-talk mechanism mediated by caspase-8-dependent Bid cleavage can contribute to the activation of the intrinsic apoptotic pathway by curcumin + carnosic acid. Collectively, these results suggest a mechanistic basis for the potential use of dietary plant polyphenol combinations in the treatment and prevention of AML.