Breast Cancer Research and Treatment

, Volume 34, Issue 3, pp 199–212

Influence of n-3 fatty acids on the growth of human breast cancer cellsin vitro: Relationship to peroxides and Vitamin-E

  • Véronique Chajès
  • Wolfgang Sattler
  • Alfred Stranzl
  • Gert M. Kostner

DOI: 10.1007/BF00689711

Cite this article as:
Chajès, V., Sattler, W., Stranzl, A. et al. Breast Cancer Res Tr (1995) 34: 199. doi:10.1007/BF00689711


Epidemiological studies suggest a causal relationship of dietary polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA's) with the morbidity and mortality from breast cancer. In order to reveal possible underlying mechanisms of these findings, we studied the influence of n-3 and n-6 PUFA's in comparison to oleic acid on the proliferation of well characterized estrogen dependent (MCF-7, ZR-75, T-47-D) and estrogen independent (MDA-MB-231, HBL-100) breast cancer cells in culture. The cell growth inhibitory effect was related to the formation of lipid peroxidation products. Normal human skin fibroblasts served as a control. In fibroblasts, the addition of 20 µg/ml of exogenous fatty acids either had no effect or caused an insignificant increase of proliferation. Similar results were obtained with MCF-7 cells. In all other breast cancer cell types, n-3 long-chain PUFA's, eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids, were the most effective fatty acids in arresting the cell growth. Alpha-linolenic and gamma-linolenic acid exerted a variable effect on cell proliferation depending on the cell line investigated. Oleic acid significantly stimulated the proliferation of hormone-independent breast cancer cells while it had no effect on the proliferation of hormone-dependent cells. Viability studies by trypan blue excretion indicated that the arrest in cell growth was not due to major cytotoxic effects.

The addition of PUFA's to breast cancer cells caused a significant increase in the formation of conjugated dienes and lipid hydroperoxides in the cellular lipids; their content was significantly correlated with the capacity of arresting cell growth. In contrast, the addition of PUFA's to fibroblasts did not increase lipid hydroperoxide formation. The addition of Vitamin E to cancer cells at a concentration of 10 µM to the PUFA-supplemented medium almost completely restored cell growth.

Our data indicate that PUFA's significantly interfere with cell proliferation of breast cancer cellsin vitro due to the formation of oxidation products. In addition to that, there must be other factors involved, most probably related to the differential metabolism of PUFA's in tumor cells. Our findings may have some impact on treatment and prevention of breast cancer.

Key words

alpha-linolenic acid breast cancer cell proliferation fatty acids lipid hydroperoxides Vitamin E 



Alpha-Linolenic Acid


Gamma-Linolenic Acid


Docosahexaenoic Acid


Eicosapentaenoic Acid


Estrogen Receptor


Oleic Acid


Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Véronique Chajès
    • 1
  • Wolfgang Sattler
    • 1
  • Alfred Stranzl
    • 1
  • Gert M. Kostner
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Medical BiochemistryUniversity of GrazGrazAustria

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