Mediterranean societies, with diets rich in vitamin E isoforms, have a lower risk for colon cancer than those of northern Europe and the Americas. Vitamin E rich diets may neutralize free radicals generated by fecal bacteria in the gut and prevent DNA damage, but signal transduction activities can occur independent of the antioxidant function. The term vitamin E represents eight structurally related compounds, each differing in their potency and mechanisms of chemoprevention. The RRR-γ-tocopherol isoform is found primarily in the US diet, while RRR-α-tocopherol is highest in the plasma.
The effectiveness of RRR-α- and RRR-γ-tocopherol at inhibiting cell growth and inducing apoptosis in colon cancer cell lines with varying molecular characteristics (SW480, HCT-15, HCT-116 and HT-29) and primary colon cells (CCD-112CoN, nontransformed normal phenotype) was studied. Colon cells were treated with and without RRR-α- or RRR-γ-tocopherol using varying tocopherol concentrations and time intervals. Cell proliferation and apoptosis were measured using the trypan blue assay, annexin V staining, DNA laddering and caspase activation.
Treatment with RRR-γ-tocopherol resulted in significant cell death for all cancer cell lines tested, while RRR-α-tocopherol did not. Further, RRR-γ-tocopherol treatment showed no cytotoxicity to normal colon cells CCD-112CoN at the highest concentration and time point tested. RRR-γ-tocopherol treatment resulted in cleavage of PARP, caspase 3, 7, and 8, but not caspase 9. Differences in the percentage cell death and apoptosis were observed in different cell lines suggesting that molecular differences in these cell lines may influence the ability of RRR-γ-tocopherol to induce cell death.
This is the first study to demonstrate that multiple colon cancer cell lines containing varying genetic alterations will under go growth reduction and apoptosis in the presence of RRR-γ-tocopherol without damage to normal colon cells. The amount growth reduction was dependent upon the molecular signatures of the cell lines. Since RRR-γ-tocopherol is effective at inhibition of cell proliferation at both physiological and pharmacological concentrations dietary RRR-γ-tocopherol may be chemopreventive, while pharmacological concentrations of RRR-γ-tocopherol may aid chemotherapy without toxic effects to normal cells demonstrated by most chemotherapeutic agents.