Colon Cancer Chemoprotection through Epigenetic Effects of a Fish Oil/Pectin Diet



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Accumulated genetic and epigenetic abnormalities contribute to the development of colon cancer. We have shown that a combination of fish oil (containing decosahexaenoic acid, DHA, 22:6 n-3) and pectin (fermented to butyrate by colonic microflora) is protective against colon carcinogenesis in part by regulating the expression of genes involved in apoptosis, leading to apoptosis induction.

To determine how FO/P enhances apoptosis, we measured the expression of genes involved in apoptosis. We performed a pathway analysis on differentially expressed genes identified at three times during colon tumorigenesis: initiation, aberrant crypt foci (ACF) formation, and tumor stage, and compared these results with phenotypic observations at those times. At initiation, FO/P down-regulated the expression of genes involved with cell adhesion and enhanced apoptosis compared with corn oil/cellulose (CO/C). At the ACF stage, expression of genes involved in cell cycle regulation was modulated by FO/P and proliferation was reduced in FO/P rats compared with CO/C rats. FO/P increased apoptosis and the expression of genes that promote apoptosis at the tumor endpoint compared with CO/C.

We next determined if changes in expression of genes involved in apoptosis by FO/P are associated with changes in promoter methylation of a key apoptosis regulator, Bcl-2. Genomic DNA was isolated from carcinogen-induced colon tumors and non-involved tissues. FO/P increased Bcl-2 promoter methylation in tumor tissues and colonocyte apoptosis relative to those observed with CO/C. A negative correlation between Bcl-2 DNA methylation and Bcl-2 mRNA levels was observed in the tumors.

Additionally, we examined gene specific promoter methylation of 24 apoptosis-related genes using human colon cancer cells. Cells were treated with DHA or linoleic acid (18:2 n-6), and select cultures were also treated with butyrate. The combination of DHA and butyrate led to a significant reduction in the methylation of pro-apoptotic genes and an increase in apoptosis. These data suggest that part of the mechanisms involved in the induction of apoptosis by FO/P may be through epigenetic regulation of genes involved in apoptosis throughout colon carcinogenesis.