Induction of apoptosis by the medium-chain length fatty acid lauric acid in colon cancer cells due to induction of oxidative stress

Chemotherapy. 2013;59(3):214-24. doi: 10.1159/000356067. Epub 2013 Dec 13.


Background: Fatty acids are classified as short-chain (SCFA), medium-chain (MCFA) or long-chain and hold promise as adjunctive chemotherapeutic agents for the treatment of colorectal cancer. The antineoplastic potential of MCFA remains underexplored; accordingly, we compared the MCFA lauric acid (C12:0) to the SCFA butyrate (C4:0) in terms of their capacity to induce apoptosis, modify glutathione (GSH) levels, generate reactive oxygen species (ROS), and modify phases of the cell cycle in Caco-2 and IEC-6 intestinal cell lines.

Methods: Caco-2 and IEC-6 cells were treated with lauric acid, butyrate, or vehicle controls. Apoptosis, ROS, and cell cycle analysis were determined by flow cytometry. GSH availability was assessed by enzymology.

Results: Lauric acid induced apoptosis in Caco-2 (p < 0.05) and IEC-6 cells (p < 0.05) compared to butyrate. In Caco-2 cells, lauric acid reduced GSH availability and generated ROS compared to butyrate (p < 0.05). Lauric acid reduced Caco-2 and IEC-6 cells in G0/G1and arrested cells in the S and G2/M phases. Lauric acid induced apoptosis in IEC-6 cells compared to butyrate (p < 0.05). Butyrate protected IEC-6 cells from ROS-induced damage, whereas lauric acid induced high levels of ROS compared to butyrate.

Conclusion: Compared to butyrate, lauric acid displayed preferential antineoplastic properties, including induction of apoptosis in a CRC cell line.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Butyrates / chemistry
  • Butyrates / pharmacology
  • Caco-2 Cells
  • Cell Cycle Checkpoints / drug effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Colonic Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Colonic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Humans
  • Lauric Acids / chemistry
  • Lauric Acids / pharmacology*
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism


  • Butyrates
  • Lauric Acids
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • lauric acid