Although colorectal cancer (CRC) treatment with 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) is the first line of therapy for this debilitating disease, treatment effectiveness is often hampered by the development of drug resistance and toxicity at high doses. ER-β can play an important role in CRC development and possibly in its response to therapy. Pterostilbene (PT) possesses antioxidant and anticancer effects that are mediated by ER-β. In the current study, we test the hypothesis that PT sensitizes colon cancer cells to 5-FU and we examine the underlying mechanism(s) by which PT exerts its cytotoxic effects in CRC cells. Our data indicate that PT exhibited a more potent cytotoxic effect in Caco-2 compared to HCT-116 cells. PT/5-FU co-treatment was more effective in Caco-2 cells. Our data indicate that ER-β is expressed at higher levels in Caco-2 cells and its levels are further boosted with PT treatment. PT significantly suppressed Akt and ERK phosphorylations, and enhanced FOXO-1 and p27kip1 levels in Caco-2 cells. PT also induced a significant increase in Caco-2 cells at pre-G phase coupled with increased Bax/Bcl-2 ratio and PARP cleavage. These results provide a rationale for novel combination treatment strategies, especially for patients with 5-FU-resistant tumors expressing ER-β protein.
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