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J Nutr Biochem. 2007 May;18(5):348-54. Epub 2006 Sep 8.

Docosahexaenoic acid induces apoptosis in CYP2E1-containing HepG2 cells by activating the c-Jun N-terminal protein kinase related mitochondrial damage.

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Department of Food and Nutrition, Sungshin Women's University, Seoul 136-742, Republic of Korea.


Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) causes apoptosis of various cancer cells, but the mechanism of DHA-induced cell death is still unclear. We hypothesized that the early signaling of apoptosis may be important in causing cell death as well as the production of free radical metabolites. DHA caused time- and dose-dependent cell death in human HepG2 hepatoma cells transduced with CYP2E1 (E47) but not in C34 (without CYP2E1), suggesting an important role of CYP2E1 in the DHA-mediated damage. DHA increased the c-Jun N-terminal protein kinase (JNK) activity until 8 h without activating other mitogen-activated protein kinases. The contents of proapoptotic Bad and FasL at 4 h and cytochrome c and caspase 3 activity at 8 h were increased and accompanied by the JNK activation in a successive manner. In contrast, Bax and Bcl-2 were not changed. Levels of lipid peroxides (LPOs) were elevated three- and fivefold at 8 and 24 h, respectively, in DHA-induced E47 cells. However, pretreatment with chlormethiazole (CMZ), a specific inhibitor of CYP2E1, significantly reduced the levels of LPO, CYP2E1, JNK activity and the rate of cell death. In addition, pretreatment with quercetin (one as a JNK inhibitor and one as an antioxidant) significantly reduced the cell death rate and JNK and SEK-1 activities. Our results indicated that DHA-mediated apoptosis in E47 cells was induced through the activation of the JNK-related cell death pathway, which may be involved in the production of LPO or reactive oxygen species during the CYP2E1 catalytic cycle, followed by mitochondrial injury and apoptosis.

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