Dietary Emulsifier-Induced Low-Grade Inflammation Promotes Colon Carcinogenesis

Cancer Res. 2017 Jan 1;77(1):27-40. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-16-1359. Epub 2016 Nov 7.


The increased risks conferred by inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) to the development of colorectal cancer gave rise to the term "colitis-associated cancer" and the concept that inflammation promotes colon tumorigenesis. A condition more common than IBD is low-grade inflammation, which correlates with altered gut microbiota composition and metabolic syndrome, both present in many cases of colorectal cancer. Recent findings suggest that low-grade inflammation in the intestine is promoted by consumption of dietary emulsifiers, a ubiquitous component of processed foods, which alter the composition of gut microbiota. Here, we demonstrate in a preclinical model of colitis-induced colorectal cancer that regular consumption of dietary emulsifiers, carboxymethylcellulose or polysorbate-80, exacerbated tumor development. Enhanced tumor development was associated with an altered microbiota metagenome characterized by elevated levels of lipopolysaccharide and flagellin. We found that emulsifier-induced alterations in the microbiome were necessary and sufficient to drive alterations in major proliferation and apoptosis signaling pathways thought to govern tumor development. Overall, our findings support the concept that perturbations in host-microbiota interactions that cause low-grade gut inflammation can promote colon carcinogenesis. Cancer Res; 77(1); 27-40. ©2016 AACR.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carboxymethylcellulose Sodium / toxicity
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / chemically induced*
  • Colitis / chemically induced*
  • Colitis / microbiology
  • Colonic Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / microbiology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Emulsifying Agents / toxicity*
  • Food Additives / toxicity*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / drug effects
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Polysorbates / toxicity


  • Emulsifying Agents
  • Food Additives
  • Polysorbates
  • Carboxymethylcellulose Sodium