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Methanolic extract of white asparagus shoots activates TRAIL apoptotic death pathway in human cancer cells and inhibits colon carcinogenesis in a preclinical model

Shoots of white asparagus are a popular vegetable dish, known to be rich in many bioactive phytochemicals reported to possess antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory and antitumor activities. We evaluated the anticancer mechanisms of a methanolic extract of L. shoots (Asp) on human colon carcinoma cells (SW480) and their derived metastatic cells (SW620), and Asp chemopreventive properties were also assessed in a model of colon carcinogenesis. SW480 and SW620 cell proliferation was inhibited by 80% after exposure to Asp (80 µg/ml). We demonstrated that Asp induced cell death through the activation of TRAIL DR4/DR5 death receptors leading to the activation of caspase-8 and caspase-3 and to cell apoptosis. By specific blocking agents of DR4/DR5 receptors we were able to prevent Asp-triggered cell death confirming the key role of DR4/DR5 receptors. We found also that Asp (80 µg/ml) was able to potentiate the effects of the cytokine TRAIL on cell death even in the TRAIL-resistant metastatic SW620 cells. Colon carcinogenesis was initiated in Wistar rats by intraperitoneal injections of azoxymethane (AOM), once a week for two weeks. One week after (post-initiation) rats received daily Asp (0.01%, 14 mg/kg body weight) in drinking water. After 7 weeks of Asp-treatment the colon of rats exhibited a 50% reduction of the number of preneoplastic lesions (aberrant crypt foci). In addition Asp induced inhibition of several pro-inflammatory mediators, in association with an increased expression of host-defense mediators. In the colonic mucosa of Asp-treated rats we also confirmed the pro-apoptotic effects observed including the activation of the TRAIL death-receptor signaling pathway. Taken together, our data highlight the chemopreventive effects of Asp on colon carcinogenesis and its ability to promote normal cellular homeostasis.