Propionibacteria induce apoptosis of colorectal carcinoma cells via short-chain fatty acids acting on mitochondria

Cell Death Differ. 2002 Feb;9(2):179-88. doi: 10.1038/sj.cdd.4400935.


The genus Propionibacterium is composed of dairy and cutaneous bacteria which produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), mainly propionate and acetate, by fermentation. Here, we show that P. acidipropionici and freudenreichii, two species which can survive in the human intestine, can kill two human colorectal carcinoma cell lines by apoptosis. Propionate and acetate were identified as the major cytotoxic components secreted by the bacteria. Bacterial culture supernatants as well as pure SCFA induced typical signs of apoptosis including a loss of mitochondrial transmembrane potential, the generation of reactive oxygen species, caspase-3 processing, and nuclear chromatin condensation. The oncoprotein Bcl-2, which is known to prevent apoptosis via mitochondrial effects, and the cytomegalovirus-encoded protein vMIA, which inhibits apoptosis and interacts with the mitochondrial adenine nucleotide translocator (ANT), both inhibited cell death induced by propionibacterial SCFA, suggesting that mitochondria and ANT are involved in the cell death pathway. Accordingly, propionate and acetate induced mitochondrial swelling when added to purified mitochondria in vitro. Moreover, they specifically permeabi-lize proteoliposomes containing ANT, indicating that ANT can be a critical target in SCFA-induced apoptosis. We suggest that propionibacteria could constitute probiotics efficient in digestive cancer prophylaxis via their ability to produce apoptosis-inducing SCFA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetates / pharmacology
  • Acetates / toxicity
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / toxicity
  • Apoptosis*
  • Caco-2 Cells
  • Carcinoma / metabolism
  • Carcinoma / pathology*
  • Caspases / metabolism
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile / pharmacology
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile / toxicity*
  • HT29 Cells
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Immediate-Early Proteins / metabolism
  • Kinetics
  • Membrane Potentials / drug effects
  • Mitochondria / drug effects
  • Mitochondria / physiology
  • Mitochondrial ADP, ATP Translocases / physiology
  • Propionates / pharmacology
  • Propionates / toxicity
  • Propionibacterium*
  • Proteolipids / drug effects
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / physiology
  • Viral Proteins*


  • Acetates
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile
  • Immediate-Early Proteins
  • Propionates
  • Proteolipids
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • UL37 protein, Human herpesvirus 5
  • Viral Proteins
  • proteoliposomes
  • Mitochondrial ADP, ATP Translocases
  • Caspases