Increasing evidence supports the hypothesis that nutrition habits play a critical role in the incidence and growth of colorectal cancer. Among dietary factors, fish-derived n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) have gained particular interest, since epidemiological studies have shown a reduced incidence of this cancer in populations consuming high levels of fish. Also a variety of experimental studies and different clinical trials substantiated the beneficial role of n-3 PUFAs. Such an anti-neoplastic activity has been related to the regulatory effects exhibited by n-3 PUFAs on cell proliferation and apoptosis. Anti-angiogenic and anti-metastatic effects have been also reported for these fatty acids. Finally, it has been suggested that they may act as adjuvant therapeutic agents sensitizing tumors, including colon cancer, to different anti-neoplastic drugs. Several molecular mechanisms have been hypothesized to explain their anti-neoplastic action and, in particular, the modulating effect on the expression of several proteins involved in the regulation of cell cycle and apoptosis, such as Bcl-2, Bax, c-Myc seem to play a central role. Their inhibitory action has been also recently suggested for the molecular pathways driven by COX-2 and β-catenin, known to play a major role in the development and progression of colon cancer. The aim of the present review is to analyze the anti-neoplastic effect of n-3 PUFAs towards colon cancer, and examine the molecular mechanisms involved.
Keywords: n-3 PUFAs, colon cancer, cell growth, apoptosis, cell cycle, molecular mechanisms
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