1. Department of Gastroenterology, PLA Army General Hospital, Beijing 100700, China.
2. Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Department of Medicine/GI Division, Baltimore, MD21205, USA.
* These authors contributed equally to this study.
Background: Epidemiological studies suggest a protective role of estrogen against colon carcinogenesis; this effect appears to be dependent on mismatch repair (MMR) status. However, the underlying mechanism remains unclear. This study investigated the role of MMR proteins in apoptosis of colon cancer cells in the presence or absence of estrogen.
Methods: Two major MMR proteins, human mutL homolog 1 (hMLH1) and mutS homolog 2 (hMSH2), as well as estrogen receptor-β (ERβ), were transiently expressed in either hMLH1-deficient HCT116 cells or hMSH2-deficient LoVo cells. Effects of estradiol on cell viability and apoptosis were assessed. Furthermore, we examined the apoptotic status of epithelial cells in colonic mucosa taken from previous healthy female subjects with menopausal syndrome before and after 6-month hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
Results: In hMLH1-deficient HCT116 cells, re-expression of hMLH1 led to a significantly decreased cell viability and increased apoptosis, which were further enhanced by estradiol, including marked increase of activated caspase-3 and caspase-9, as well as Bax and P53. The effect of hMLH1 overexpression in LoVo cells resulted in a similar increase in apoptosis that was greatly stimulated by estradiol. The enhanced apoptosis by hMLH1 and estradiol was further validated by FACS analyses of Annexin V expression. Re-expression of hMSH2 or overexpression of ERβ in HCT116 cells also enhanced apoptosis; however, the effects were independent of estradiol. Furthermore, studies on healthy menopausal women before and after 6-month HRT demonstrated a significant HRT-mediated upregulation of the hMLH1 expression, with concomitant elevation of caspase-3 and caspase-9 activation in the colonic mucosa.
Conclusion: We present the first evidence that hMLH1 and hMSH2 have similar but distinct roles in the apoptosis of colon cancer cells: an increased expression of either one can promote apoptosis, while only the effect of hMLH1 but not hMSH2 is estradiol-dependent. Our data suggest that MMR status should be assessed before hormone replacement therapy or future application of estrogen-based chemoprevention.
Keywords: Colon cancer, hMLH1, hMSH2, Estradiol/Estrogen, Mismatch repair (MMR), Apoptosis.