Although evidence has shown the regulating effect of n-3 poly-unsaturated fatty acid (n-3 PUFA) on cell signaling transduction, it remains unknown whether n-3 PUFA treatment modulates estrogen signaling.

The current study showed that docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, C22:6), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, C20:5) shifted the pro-survival and proliferative effect of estrogen to a pro-apoptotic effect in human breast cancer (BCa) MCF-7 and T47D cells. 17 β-estradiol (E2) enhanced the inhibitory effect of n-3 PUFAs on BCa cell growth. The IC50 of DHA or EPA in MCF-7 cells decreased when combined with E2 (10 nM) treatment (from 173 µM for DHA only to 113 µM for DHA+E2, and from 187 µm for EPA only to 130 µm for EPA+E2). E2 also augmented apoptosis in n-3 PUFA-treated BCa cells. In contrast, in cells treated with stearic acid (SA, C18:0) as well as cells not treated with fatty acid, E2 promoted breast cancer cell growth. Classical (nuclear) estrogen receptors may not be involved in the pro-apoptotic effects of E2 on the n-3 PUFA-treated BCa cells because ERα agonist failed to elicit, and ERα knockdown failed to block E2 pro-apoptotic effects. Subsequent studies reveal that G protein coupled estrogen receptor 1 (GPER1) may mediate the pro-apoptotic effect of estrogen. N-3 PUFA treatment initiated the pro-apoptotic signaling of estrogen by increasing GPER1-cAMP-PKA signaling response, and blunting EGFR, Erk 1/2, and AKT activity.

These findings may not only provide the evidence to link n-3 PUFAs biologic effects and the pro-apoptotic signaling of estrogen in breast cancer cells, but also shed new insight into the potential application of n-3 PUFAs in BCa treatment.

PMID: 23285198

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