Sporadic colon cancer is caused predominantly by dietary factors. We have selected bile acids as a focus of this review since high levels of hydrophobic bile acids accompany a Western-style diet, and play a key role in colon carcinogenesis. We describe how bile acid-induced stresses cause cell death in susceptible cells, contribute to genomic instability in surviving cells, impose Darwinian selection on survivors and enhance initiation and progression to colon cancer. The most likely major mechanisms by which hydrophobic bile acids induce stresses on cells (DNA damage, endoplasmic reticulum stress, mitochondrial damage) are described. Persistent exposure of colon epithelial cells to hydrophobic bile acids can result in the activation of pro-survival stress-response pathways, and the modulation of numerous genes/proteins associated with chromosome maintenance and mitosis. The multiple mechanisms by which hydrophobic bile acids contribute to genomic instability are discussed, and include oxidative DNA damage, p53 and other mutations, micronuclei formation and aneuploidy. Since bile acids and oxidative stress decrease DNA repair proteins, an increase in DNA damage and increased genomic instability through this mechanism is also described. This review provides a mechanistic explanation for the important link between a Western-style diet and associated increased levels of colon cancer.
Keywords: bile acids; colon cancer; genomic instability.