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Differential Anti-Cancer Effects of Purified EPA and DHA and Possible Mechanisms Involved

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As the concepts of pharmaconutrition are receiving increasing attention, it seems essential to clearly assess the effects of specific dietary compounds in specific groups of patients or clinical conditions. We are herein interested in better defining the differential anti-neoplastic effects of the two major n-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids present in fish oil, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The efficiency of these fatty acids represents a subject of intense interest and debate, and whereas plenty of preclinical studies have strongly demonstrated their preventive and therapeutic effect in different kinds of cancers, the results of the epidemiologic studies are still controversial, and only a few trials have been performed. It has been reported that EPA and DHA may act either through the same or different mechanisms, thus suggesting that a differential efficacy could exist. At present, however, this point has not been clarified, although its better comprehension would allow a more proper and effective use of these fatty acids in the human interventional studies. In an attempt to elucidate this aspect we have herein analyzed the data obtained in the studies which have directly compared the antitumor effects of separate treatments with EPA or DHA. Most of the in vitro data indicate DHA as the more powerful antineoplastic agent. However, an equivalent efficiency of EPA and DHA is suggested by the few in vivo studies. Possible reasons for this discrepancy are discussed and pathways of cell growth that could be differentially influenced by EPA and DHA are described.

Keywords: Antitumor effect; DHA; EPA; apoptosis; breast-cancer; cell-growth; cell-proliferation; colon-cancer; diet; differential-effect; molecular-mechanisms

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: September 1, 2011

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  • Current Medicinal Chemistry covers all the latest and outstanding developments in medicinal chemistry and rational drug design. Each issue contains a series of timely in-depth reviews written by leaders in the field covering a range of the current topics in medicinal chemistry. Current Medicinal Chemistry is an essential journal for every medicinal chemist who wishes to be kept informed and up-to-date with the latest and most important developments.

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