Neuroblastoma cell death in response to docosahexaenoic acid: sensitization to chemotherapy and arsenic-induced oxidative stress

Int J Cancer. 2006 May 15;118(10):2584-93. doi: 10.1002/ijc.21555.


Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid vital for the developing nervous system and significantly decreased in neuroblastoma cells compared to nontransformed nervous tissue. We investigated whether supplementation of DHA affects the susceptibility of neuroblastoma cells to oxidative stress generated endogenously and in response to cytotoxic therapy. DHA, but not the monounsaturated oleic acid (OA), induced dose- and time-dependent neuroblastoma cell death. DHA supplementation was associated with depolarization of the mitochondrial membrane potential, production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and accumulation of DNA in sub-G1 phase of the cell cycle. The antioxidant, vitamin E, inhibited mitochondrial depolarization and subsequent cell death induced by DHA, whereas, the mitochondrial pore inhibitor, cyclosporin A, partly inhibited DHA-induced neuroblastoma cell death. Depletion of glutathione by L-buthionine-sulfoximine significantly enhanced the cytotoxic effects of DHA. Nontransformed fibroblasts were not substantially affected by DHA. DHA, but not OA, significantly enhanced the cytotoxicity of cisplatin, doxorubicin and irinotecan both in chemosensitive and in multidrug-resistant neuroblastoma cells. DHA potently sensitized neuroblastoma cells to a clinically relevant concentration (1 microM) of arsenic trioxide (As2O3) and enhanced the effect of the nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drug (NSAID), diclofenac. These findings provide experimental evidence that the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA, is cytotoxic to drug-resistant neuroblastoma. The potent action of DHA with arsenic trioxide, NSAID and chemotherapeutic agents suggests clinical testing of this therapeutic concept in children with neuroblastoma.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants / pharmacology
  • Apoptosis
  • Arsenic / toxicity*
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / pharmacology*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Resistance, Multiple*
  • G1 Phase
  • Humans
  • Neuroblastoma / pathology*
  • Oxidative Stress*
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Vitamin E / pharmacology


  • Antioxidants
  • Vitamin E
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • Arsenic