HNPCC (hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer) is an autosomal-dominant disorder characterized by early-onset CRC (colorectal cancer). HNPCC is most often associated with mutations in the MMR (mismatch repair) genes hMLH1, hMSH2, hMSH6 or hPMS2. The mutator phenotype of a defective MMR system is MSI (microsatellite instability), which also occurs in approx. 15–25% of sporadic CRC cases, where it is associated with the hypermethylation of the promoter region of hMLH1. Dietary factors, including excessive alcohol consumption, ingestion of red meat and low folate intake, may increase the risk of MSI high tumour development. In contrast, aspirin may suppress MSI in MMR-deficient CRC cell lines. Butyrate, a short-chain-fatty-acid end product of carbohydrate fermentation in the colon, shares a number of anti-neoplastic properties with aspirin, including inhibiting proliferation and inducing apoptosis of CRC cells. Recent in vitro studies suggest that physiological concentrations of butyrate (0.5–2 mM) may have more potent anti-neoplastic effects in CRC cell lines deficient in MMR, but mechanisms for such a differential response remain to be established.

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