Docosahexaenoic acid regulated genes and transcription factors inducing apoptosis in human colon cancer cells

Int J Oncol. 2001 Dec;19(6):1255-62. doi: 10.3892/ijo.19.6.1255.


Epidemiological and preclinical studies demonstrate that consumption of diets high in omega-3 fatty acids (n-3 PUFAs) reduce the risk of colon cancer. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFAs) is a major constituent of nutrients rich in n-3 PUFAs. There are studies to indicate that colon tumor inhibition by n-3 PUFA-rich diets is, in part, mediated through modulation of signaling pathways that alter gene expression which are involved in colon tumor growth. In the present study using CaCo-2 colon cancer cell lines we examined the effects of DHA on the genetic precursors of human colon cancer at the transcription level using DNA oligonucleotide arrays. Our results indicated that DHA inhibits the growth of CaCo-2 cells and induces apoptosis. For gene expression analysis using DNA microarrays, total RNA extracted from DHA treated CaCo-2 cells was converted to cDNA, labeled with Cy5-dCTP (DHA-treated) and Cy3-dCTP (untreated cells) and used as probes for hybridization in human chip spotted with 3,800 oligonucleotides consisting of 156 functional categories. The expression profiles of genes indicated a reprogramming pattern of previously known and unknown genes and transcription factors that provided clues to the possible functional mechanism of DHA. An average of (ratios from triplicate experiments) 504 out of 3,800 genes expressed after 48 h of DHA treatment. Altered expression on the transcription factors includes down regulation of nine members of the RNA II polymerases, transcription co-repressor associated protein and enhancer binding proteins such as AP2, in addition to changes in the expression of zinc finger group of transcription factors. Activation of cytochrome c which triggers caspases was associated with the elevated expression of pro-apoptotic caspases 10, 13, 8, 5 and 9 in DHA treated cells. Activation of cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors such as p21 (waf1/cip1), p27, p57, p19 and growth arrest specific proteins by more than 2-fold is consistent with the induction of apoptosis and inactivation of antiapototic Bcl-2 family of genes. Inactivation of prostaglandin family of genes, lipoxygenases and altered expression of peroxisome proliferators (PPARalpha and gamma) by DHA seem to indicate a lipid peroxidation-induced apoptosis in addition to effect reflected on the modification of cell cycle regulatory genes. These findings support the conclusion that a genomewide expression profiling of human colon cancer precursor genes and transcription factors provides a set of novel regulatory mechanism(s) to determine the chemopreventive efficacy of DHA and thus to prevent the inflammation and neoplasia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Arachidonic Acids / metabolism
  • Cell Cycle / drug effects
  • Colonic Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / pharmacology*
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Lipids
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Neoplasm Proteins / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / metabolism
  • RNA / isolation & purification
  • RNA / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Arachidonic Acids
  • Lipids
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • RNA