Mechanism of attenuation of skeletal muscle protein catabolism in cancer cachexia by eicosapentaenoic acid

A.S. Whitehouse, Helen J. Smith, J.L. Drake, Michael J. Tisdale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cancer cachexia is characterized by selective depletion of skeletal muscle protein reserves. Soleus muscles from mice bearing a cachexia-inducing tumor (MAC16) showed an increased protein degradation in vitro, as measured by tyrosine release, when compared with muscles from nontumor-bearing animals. After incubation under conditions that modify different proteolytic systems, lysosomal, calcium-dependent, and ATP-dependent proteolysis were found to contribute to the elevated protein catabolism. Treatment of mice bearing the MAC16 tumor with the polyunsaturated fatty acid, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), attenuated loss of body weight and significantly suppressed protein catabolism in soleus muscles through an inhibition of an ATP-dependent proteolytic pathway. The ATP-ubiquitin-dependent proteolytic pathway is considered to play a major role in muscle catabolism in cachexia, and functional proteasome activity, as determined by “chymotrypsin-like” enzyme activity, was significantly elevated in gastrocnemius muscle of mice bearing the MAC16 tumor as weight loss progressed. When animals bearing the MAC16 tumor were treated with EPA, functional proteasome activity was completely suppressed, together with attenuation of the expression of 20S proteasome a-subunits and the p42 regulator, whereas there was no effect on the expression of the ubiquitin-conjugating enzyme (E214k). These results suggest that EPA induces an attenuation of the up-regulation of proteasome expression in cachectic mice, and this was correlated with an increase in myosin expression, confirming retention of contractile proteins. EPA also inhibited growth of the MAC16 tumor in a dose-dependent manner, and this correlated with suppression of the expression of the 20S proteasome a-subunits in tumor cells, suggesting that this may be the mechanism of tumor growth inhibition. Thus EPA antagonizes loss of skeletal muscle proteins in cancer cachexia by down-regulation of proteasome expression, and this may also be the mechanism for inhibition of tumor growth.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3604-3609
Number of pages6
JournalCancer Research
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2001


  • proteasome
  • epa
  • mac
  • cachexia
  • muscle
  • cancer cachexia
  • muscle protein
  • tumor
  • protein catabolism
  • catabolism
  • protein
  • skeletal muscle
  • eicosapentaenoic acid
  • eicosapentaenoic
  • cancer


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