Aspirin could potentially make a relevant contribution in the treatment of colon cancer. Under certain conditions, the drug has a significant anti-cancer effect.
A research team from the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU) has investigated the underlying mechanisms of the effect of aspirin or acetylsalicylic acid against colon cancer. The corresponding study results are published in the specialist magazine “Cell Death & Disease”.
Promising effect against colon cancer
In previous studies, aspirin or acetylsalicylic acid has already proven to be a promising active ingredient for preventing colon cancer, the researchers report. For example, a study showed that taking low-dose aspirin for years reduced the risk of colon cancer in people with cardiovascular disease.
There is also evidence that aspirin can inhibit the progression of colon cancer. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying these effects have not yet been fully researched.
Production of anti-cancer molecules
In the new study, the team led by Professor Heiko Hermeking from the LMU has now shown that aspirin induces the production of two tumor-inhibiting microRNA molecules (miRNAs), which are referred to as miR-34a and miR-34b/c.
Furthermore, acetylsalicylic acid activated the so-called AMP-dependent kinase (AMPK), which activated the transcription factor NRF2, migrated to the cell nucleus and initiated miR-34a/b/c expression there, the researchers explain. In order for this activation to be successful, aspirin also suppresses the oncogene product c-MYC, which otherwise inhibits NRF2.
In addition, it has become clear that the miR-34 genes are crucial for the anti-cancer effect of aspirin. According to the research team, aspirin was unable to prevent migration, invasion and metastasis in miR-34-deficient cancer cells.
Therapeutic option for colon cancer
The experts were also able to prove that the activation of the miR-34 genes by aspirin occurs independently of the p53 signaling pathway. “This is important because the gene encoding p53 is the most frequently inactivated tumor suppressor gene in colon cancer,” emphasizes Professor Hermeking.
The p53 signaling pathway is also inactivated in many other cancers by mutations or viruses and aspirin could be used therapeutically in such cases in the future to activate miR-34a and miR-34b/c in tumors that have lost p53, the research team summarizes. (fp)