Background: Patients with familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) are at increased risk for the development of colorectal cancer. Surgery and chemoprevention are the most effective means to prevent cancer development. Thymoquinone (TQ) is considered the main compound of the volatile Nigella sativa seed oil and has been reported to possess anticarcinogenic properties. In this study we evaluated the chemopreventive properties of TQ in a mouse model of FAP.
Methods: APCMin mice were fed with chow containing 37.5 mg/kg or 375 mg/kg TQ for 12 weeks. H&E stained intestine tissue sections were assessed for tumor number, localization, size, and grade. Immunohistochemistry for β-catenin, c-myc, Ki-67 and TUNEL-staining was performed to investigate TQ's effect on major colorectal cancer pathways. TQ's impact on GSK-3β and β-catenin were studied in RKO cells.
Results: 375 mg/kg but not 37.5 mg/kg TQ decreased the number of large polyps in the small intestine of APCMin mice. TQ induced apoptosis in the neoplastic tissue but not in the normal mucosa. Furthermore, upon TQ treatment, β-catenin was retained at the membrane and c-myc decreased in the nucleus, which was associated with a reduced cell proliferation in the villi. In vitro, TQ activated GSK-3β, which induced membranous localization of β-catenin and reduced nuclear c-myc expression.
Conclusions: In summary, TQ interferes with polyp progression in ApcMin mice through induction of tumor-cell specific apoptosis and by modulating Wnt signaling through activation of GSK-3β. Nigella sativa oil (or TQ) might be useful as nutritional supplement to complement surgery and chemoprevention in FAP.