Role of endogenous and exogenous nitric oxide, carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide in HCT116 colon cancer cell proliferation

Gabor Oláh, Katalin Módis, Gabor Törö, Mark R. Hellmich, Bartosz Szczesny, Csaba Szabo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Scopus citations


The role of the three gasotransmitter systems – nitric oxide (NO), carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen sulfide (H2S) – in cancer cells has not yet been studied simultaneously in the same experimental system. We measured the expression of NO and CO and H2S generating enzymes in primary colon cancer tissues and HCT116 colon cancer cells, and evaluated the effect of their pharmacological inhibition or pharmacological donation on cell proliferation. Increased expression of iNOS, nNOS, HO-1, CBS and 3-MST was detected in colon cancer. Inhibitors of NOS, HO-1/2, CBS/CSE and 3-MST, at lower concentrations, slightly stimulated HCT116 cell proliferation, but inhibited proliferation at higher concentrations. Donors of NO, CO or H2S inhibited HCT116 proliferation in a concentration-dependent manner. Inhibition of the cGMP/VASP pathway, Akt and p44/42 MAPK (Erk1/2) inhibited HCT116 cell proliferation. Endogenous NO and H2S biosynthesis were found to play a role in the maintenance of the activity of the cGMP/VASP pathway in HCT116 cells. We conclude that each of the three gasotransmitters play similar, bell-shaped roles in the control of HCT116 cell proliferation: endogenously produced NO, CO and H2S, at an optimal concentration, support HCT116 proliferation; inhibition of their production (which decreases gasotransmitter levels below optimal concentrations) as well as exogenous delivery of these gasotransmitters (which increases gasotransmitter levels above optimal concentrations) suppresses colon cancer cell proliferation. The current data give a mechanistic explanation for the paradoxical finding that both inhibitors and donors of NO, CO and H2S exert anticancer actions in cancer cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)186-204
Number of pages19
JournalBiochemical Pharmacology
StatePublished - Mar 2018


  • Anticancer
  • Apoptosis
  • Bioenergetics
  • Cancer
  • Cell proliferation
  • Gasotransmitters
  • PI3K
  • Signaling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Pharmacology


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