Many tumours undergo disregulation of polyamine homeostasis and upregulation of ornithine decarboxylase (ODC) activity, which can promote carcinogenesis. In animal models of colon carcinogenesis, inhibition of ODC activity by difluoromethylornithine (DFMO) has been shown to reduce the number and size of colon adenomas and carcinomas. Indole-3-carbinol (I3C) has shown promising chemopreventive activity against a range of human tumour cell types, but little is known about the effect of this agent on colon cell lines. Here, we investigated whether inhibition of ODC by I3C could contribute to a chemopreventive effect in colon cell lines.
Cell cycle progression and induction of apoptosis were assessed by flow cytometry. Ornithine decarboxylase activity was determined by liberation of CO2 from 14C-labelled substrate, and polyamine levels were measured by HPLC.
I3C inhibited proliferation of the human colon tumour cell lines HT29 and SW480, and of the normal tissue-derived HCEC line, and at higher concentrations induced apoptosis in SW480 cells. The agent also caused a decrease in ODC activity in a dose-dependent manner. While administration of exogenous putrescine reversed the growth-inhibitory effect of DFMO, it did not reverse the growth-inhibition following an I3C treatment, and in the case of the SW480 cell line, the effect was actually enhanced. In this cell line, combination treatment caused a slight increase in the proportion of cells in the G2/M phase of the cell cycle, and increased the proportion of cells undergoing necrosis, but did not predispose cells to apoptosis. Indole-3-carbinol also caused an increase in intracellular spermine levels, which was not modulated by putrescine co-administration.
While indole-3-carbinol decreased ornithine decarboxylase activity in the colon cell lines, it appears unlikely that this constitutes a major mechanism by which the agent exerts its antiproliferative effect, although accumulation of spermine may cause cytotoxicity and contribute to cell death. The precise mechanism by which putrescine enhances the growth inhibitory effect of the agent remains to be elucidated, but does result in cells undergoing necrosis, possibly following accumulation in the G2/M phase of the cell cycle.