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Apoptosis. 2007 Nov;12(11):2013-24.

Apoptosis induced by capsaicin in prostate PC-3 cells involves ceramide accumulation, neutral sphingomyelinase, and JNK activation.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, School of Medicine, University of Alcalá, 28871, Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain.


Numerous studies have recently focused on the anticarcinogenic, antimutagenic, or chemopreventive activities of the main pungent component of red pepper, capsaicin (N-vanillyl-8-methyl-1-nonenamide). We have previously shown that, in the androgen-independent prostate cancer PC-3 cells, capsaicin inhibits cell growth and induces apoptosis through reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation [Apoptosis 11 (2006) 89-99]. In the present study, we investigated the signaling pathways involved in the antiproliferative effect of capsaicin. Here, we report that capsaicin apoptotic effect was mediated by ceramide generation which occurred by sphingomyelin hydrolysis. Using siRNA, we demonstrated that N-SMase expression is required for the effect of capsaicin on prostate cell viability. We then investigated the role of MAP kinase cascades, extracellular signal-regulated protein kinase (ERK), c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK), and p38 MAPK, in the antiproliferative effect of capsaicin, and we confirmed that capsaicin could activate ERK and JNK but not p38 MAPK. Pharmacological inhibition of JNK kinase, as well as inhibition of ROS by the reducing agent N-acetylcysteine, prevented ceramide accumulation and capsaicin-induced cell death. However, inhibition of ceramide accumulation by the SMase inhibitor D609 did not modify JNK activation. These data reveal JNK as an upstream regulator of ceramide production. Capsaicin-promoted activation of ERK was prevented with all the inhibitors tested. We conclude that capsaicin induces apoptosis in PC-3 cells via ROS generation, JNK activation, ceramide accumulation, and second, ERK activation.

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