Cyclooxygenase activity mediates colorectal cancer cell resistance to the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid

Colorectal Cancer

Cancer Chemother Pharmacol. 2020 Oct 11. doi: 10.1007/s00280-020-04157-2. Online ahead of print.


PURPOSE: The naturally-occurring omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is safe, well-tolerated and inexpensive, making it an attractive anti-cancer intervention. However, EPA has only modest anti-colorectal cancer (CRC) activity, when used alone. Both cyclooxygenase (COX) isoforms metabolise EPA and are over-expressed in CRC cells. We investigated whether COX inhibition increases the sensitivity of CRC cells to growth inhibition by EPA.

METHODS: A panel of 18 human and mouse CRC cell lines was used to characterize the differential sensitivity of CRC cells to the growth inhibitory effects of EPA. The effect of CRISPR-Cas9 genetic deletion and pharmacological inhibition of COX-1 and COX-2 on the anti-cancer activity of EPA was determined using in vitro and in vivo models.

RESULTS: Genetic ablation of both COX isoforms increased sensitivity of CT26 mouse CRC cells to growth inhibition by EPA in vitro and in vivo. The non-selective COX inhibitor aspirin and the selective COX-2 inhibitor celecoxib increased sensitivity of several human and mouse CRC cell lines to EPA in vitro. However, in a MC38 mouse CRC cell tumour model, with dosing that mirrored low-dose aspirin use in humans, thereby producing significant platelet COX-1 inhibition, there was ineffective intra-tumoral COX-2 inhibition by aspirin and no effect on EPA sensitivity of MC38 cell tumours.

CONCLUSION: Cyclooxygenase inhibition by non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs represents a therapeutic opportunity to augment the modest anti-CRC activity of EPA. However, intra-tumoral COX inhibition is likely to be critical for this drug-nutrient interaction and careful tissue pharmacodynamic profiling is required in subsequent pre-clinical and human studies.