1. n-Butyrate, a short chain fatty acid produced by colonic fermentation, induces differentiation in human neoplastic cell lines, and reduces expression in vitro of a sialyltransferase that glycosylates N-linked glycoproteins in hepatoblastoma cells. Gangliosides are amphipathic, sialylated glycosphingolipids that undergo profound changes in many transformed cells and may protect neoplastic cells from host immune surveillance. Colonic mucosal cells are exposed to luminal short-chain fatty acid concentrations of up to 80 mmol/l, and there is some evidence that short-chain fatty acids may alter ganglioside expression in colon cancer cells.

2. Because of the importance of gangliosides in cancer pathogenesis, we investigated the effects of n-butyrate on ganglioside expression of colonic (human and murine) and non-colonic cancer cells.

3. Three separate colon cancer cell lines (LS174T, T84 and MCA-38), when butyrate treated, demonstrated striking amplification of specific individual gangliosides. However, the total lipid-bound sialic acid content of gangliosides of butyrate-treated LS174T cells diminished. In contrast to earlier reports, n-butyrate did not mediate expression of all gangliosides and specifically did not mediate expression of GM3. This effect persisted even after removal of butyrate.

4. In contrast, exposure of extracolonic cells to butyrate, including cervical cancer (HeLa) and laryngeal cancer (HEp-2) cell lines in this study and hepatoblastoma cells (Hep G2) in our previous work, caused no detectable changes in ganglioside expression.

5. In conclusion, our results indicate a relative tissue specificity of butyrate-mediated alterations in ganglioside expression that is not universal but is limited to specific gangliosides.

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