Purpose: Radiation therapy is an integral part of the preoperative treatment of rectal cancers. However, only a minority of patients achieve a complete pathologic response to therapy because of resistance of these tumors to radiation therapy. This resistance may be mediated by constitutively active pro-survival signaling pathways or by inducible/acquired mechanisms in response to radiation therapy. Simultaneous inhibition of these pathways can sensitize these tumors to radiation therapy.
Methods and materials: Human colorectal cancer cells were exposed to clinically relevant doses of gamma rays, and the mechanism of their radioresistance was investigated. We characterized the transcription factor nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-kappaB) activation as a mechanism of inducible radioresistance in colorectal cancer and used curcumin, the active ingredient in the yellow spice turmeric, to overcome this resistance.
Results: Curcumin inhibited the proliferation and the post-irradiation clonogenic survival of multiple colorectal cancer cell lines. Radiation stimulated NF-kappaB activity in a dose- and time-dependent manner, whereas curcumin suppressed this radiation-induced NF-kappaB activation via inhibition of radiation-induced phosphorylation and degradation of inhibitor of kappaB alpha, inhibition of inhibitor of kappaB kinase activity, and inhibition of Akt phosphorylation. Curcumin also suppressed NF-kappaB-regulated gene products (Bcl-2, Bcl-x(L), inhibitor of apoptosis protein-2, cyclooxygenase-2, and cyclin D1).
Conclusions: Our results suggest that transient inducible NF-kappaB activation provides a prosurvival response to radiation that may account for development of radioresistance. Curcumin blocks this signaling pathway and potentiates the antitumor effects of radiation therapy.