Synergistic anticancer effect of docosahexaenoic acid and isoliquiritigenin on human colorectal cancer cells through ROS-mediated regulation of the JNK and cytochrome c release


A large body of research has demonstrated a synergistic anticancer effect between docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and standard chemotherapy regimens against colorectal cancer (CRC). In this study, we investigated the chemotherapeutic potential of cotreatment with DHA and isoliquiritigenin (ISL) against CRC HCT-116 cells. Apoptosis was confirmed by Annexin V/PI staining and expression of apoptosis-associated proteins. The synergistic effect of DHA and ISL combination on apoptosis was detected using combination index approaches. Flow cytometry was carried out using fluorescent probes to measure the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). DHA and ISL in combination synergistically enhanced the decrease in cell viability versus the compounds used alone. Moreover, we demonstrated that the synergistic anti-CRC activity of cotreatment with these two compounds was achieved by inducing the apoptosis caspase-dependently mediated through augmented ROS generation followed by increased Fas ligand mRNA expression and cytochrome c release. Our data also demonstrated that cotreating with DHA and ISL strongly upregulated the phosphorylation of ERK and JNK, which are functionally associated with ROS induced by the two compounds in combination. Interestingly, further study revealed that inhibiting ERK phosphorylation strongly enhanced Fas ligand mRNA expression and the combination of the two compounds induced stronger cytotoxicity, whereas inhibiting JNK phosphorylation significantly reduced the apoptotic signals mediated by cotreatment with these two compounds. Excessive ROS-induced JNK activation and cytochrome c release from mitochondria played a key role in the synergistic anticancer activity of CRC cells by cotreating with DHA and ISL.

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We shall make data and material available upon request.


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This paper was supported by Wonkwang Institute of Clinical Medicine in 2016.

Author information




SHL, HSK and GSS planned the research. SHL and GSS analyzed the data and prepared the manuscript. HJ conducted the experiments and analyzed the data. STY and SRS assisted experimental work.

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Correspondence to Sung Hee Lee or Geom Seog Seo.

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Jin, H., Kim, H.S., Yu, S.T. et al. Synergistic anticancer effect of docosahexaenoic acid and isoliquiritigenin on human colorectal cancer cells through ROS-mediated regulation of the JNK and cytochrome c release. Mol Biol Rep 48, 1171–1180 (2021).

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  • Docosahexaenoic acid
  • Isoliquiritigenin
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Reactive oxygen species
  • JNK
  • Cytochrome c