Short chain fatty acids and colon cancer

J Nutr. 2002 Dec;132(12):3804S-3808S. doi: 10.1093/jn/132.12.3804S.


The development of intestinal cancer involves complex genetic and epigenetic alterations in the intestinal mucosa. The principal signaling pathway responsible for the initiation of tumor formation, the APC-beta-catenin-TCF4 pathway, regulates both cell proliferation and colonic cell differentiation, but many other intrinsic and extrinsic signals also modulate these cell maturation pathways. The challenge is to understand how signaling and cell maturation are also modulated by nutritional agents. Through gene expression profiling, we have gained insight into the mechanisms by which short chain fatty acids regulate these pathways and the differences in response of gene programs, and of the specific regulation of the c-myc gene, to physiological regulators of intestinal cell maturation, such as butyrate, compared with pharmacological regulators such as the nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drug sulindac. Moreover, we used a combination of gene expression profiling of the response of cells in culture to sulindac and the response of the human mucosa in subjects treated with sulindac for 1 month, coupled with a mouse genetic model approach, to identify the cyclin dependent kinase inhibitor p21(WAF1/Cip1) as an important suppressor of Apc-initiated intestinal tumor formation and a necessary component for tumor inhibition by sulindac. Finally, the mucous barrier, secreted by intestinal goblet cells, is the interface between the luminal contents and the intestinal mucosa. We generated a mouse genetic model with a targeted inactivation of the Muc2 gene that encodes the major intestinal mucin. These mice have no recognizable goblet cells due to the failure of cells to synthesize and store mucin. This leads to perturbations in intestinal crypt architecture, increased cellular proliferation and rates of cell migration, decreased apoptosis and development of adenomas and adenocarcinomas in the small and large intestine and the rectum.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Colonic Neoplasms / genetics
  • Colonic Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mucins / metabolism
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Trans-Activators / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Transcription, Genetic
  • beta Catenin


  • CTNNB1 protein, human
  • CTNNB1 protein, mouse
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins
  • Fatty Acids
  • Mucins
  • Trans-Activators
  • Transcription Factors
  • beta Catenin