Vitamin E metabolite 13'-carboxychromanols inhibit pro-inflammatory enzymes, induce apoptosis and autophagy in human cancer cells by modulating sphingolipids and suppress colon tumor development in mice

Free Radic Biol Med. 2016 Jun:95:190-9. doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2016.03.018. Epub 2016 Mar 23.


Vitamin E forms are substantially metabolized to various carboxychromanols including 13'-carboxychromanols (13'-COOHs) that are found at high levels in feces. However, there is limited knowledge about functions of these metabolites. Here we studied δT-13'-COOH and δTE-13'-COOH, which are metabolites of δ-tocopherol and δ-tocotrienol, respectively. δTE-13'-COOH is also a natural constituent of a traditional medicine Garcinia Kola. Both 13'-COOHs are much stronger than tocopherols in inhibition of pro-inflammatory and cancer promoting cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) and 5-lipoxygenase (5-LOX), and in induction of apoptosis and autophagy in colon cancer cells. The anticancer effects by 13'-COOHs appeared to be partially independent of inhibition of COX-2/5-LOX. Using liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry, we found that 13'-COOHs increased intracellular dihydrosphingosine and dihydroceramides after short-time incubation in HCT-116 cells, and enhanced ceramides while decreased sphingomyelins during prolonged treatment. Modulation of sphingolipids by 13'-COOHs was observed prior to or coinciding with biochemical manifestation of cell death. Pharmaceutically blocking the increase of these sphingolipids partially counteracted 13'-COOH-induced cell death. Further, 13'-COOH inhibited dihydroceramide desaturase without affecting the protein expression. In agreement with these mechanistic findings, δTE-13'-COOH significantly suppressed the growth and multiplicity of colon tumor in mice. Our study demonstrates that 13'-COOHs have anti-inflammatory and anticancer activities, may contribute to in vivo anticancer effect of vitamin E forms and are promising novel cancer prevention agents.

Keywords: Apoptosis; Autophagy; Cancer; Sphingolipid; Vitamin E metabolites.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Arachidonate 5-Lipoxygenase / genetics*
  • Autophagy / drug effects
  • Chromans / administration & dosage
  • Colonic Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / genetics
  • Colonic Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Colonic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cyclooxygenase 2 / genetics*
  • Cyclooxygenase 2 Inhibitors / administration & dosage
  • Garcinia kola / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • HCT116 Cells
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Sphingolipids / metabolism
  • Tocopherols / metabolism
  • Vitamin E / metabolism*


  • Chromans
  • Cyclooxygenase 2 Inhibitors
  • Sphingolipids
  • Vitamin E
  • 2,2,5,7,8-pentamethyl-1-hydroxychroman
  • Arachidonate 5-Lipoxygenase
  • Cyclooxygenase 2
  • PTGS2 protein, human
  • ALOX5 protein, human
  • Tocopherols