Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is known to have anti-cancer activities by mechanisms that are not well understood. In the present study, we test one possible pathway for DHA action in Jurkat leukaemic cells. Low doses of DHA (10μM) are shown to induce cell-cycle arrest, whereas higher doses are cytotoxic. However, when cells that were pre-treated with 10μM DHA are given an additional 10μM DHA dose, cell viability rapidly decreases. Immunoblotting reveals that repeated low doses of DHA results in activation of caspase 3, implying induction of apoptosis. DHA (10μM) is shown to increase ceramide levels after 6h of incubation and, after 24h, the cells appear to be arrested in S phase. With DHA, the amount of phosphorylated retinoblastoma protein (pRb) decreases significantly. Western blot analysis also shows that DHA greatly reduces the level of cyclin A, while increasing the level of p21 WAF1, a cellular inhibitor of cyclin A/cyclin-dependent kinase 2 (cdk2) activity. Furthermore, the observed DHA-induced doubling of the ratio of hypophosphorylated pRb (hypo-pRb) to total pRb is inhibited by tautomycin and phosphatidic acid (PA), known inhibitors of protein phosphatase 1 (PP1), and by the PP2 inhibitor okadaic acid. The present study demonstrates one possible connected pathway for DHA action. By this pathway, low doses of DHA increase ceramide levels, which leads to inhibition of cdk2 activity and stimulation of PP1 and PP2A. The net effect of cdk2 inhibition and protein phosphatase activation is an inhibition of pRb phosphorylation, consequently arresting Jurkat cell growth.

Abbreviations used: CAPP, ceramide-activated protein phosphatase; cdk, cyclin-dependent kinase; DAG, diacylglycerol; DHA, docosahexaenoic acid; DTT, 1,4-dithio-dl-threitol; hypo-pRb, hypophosphorylated pRb; PA, phosphatidic acid; PE, phenylethanolamine; PP1, protein phosphatase 1; PP2A, protein phosphatase 2A; pRb, retinoblastoma protein; SMYase, sphingomyelinase.

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