How Does Aspirin Prevent Cancer?

Aspirin blocks proliferation of colorectal cancer cells and causes them to self destruct by inhibiting the mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR), according to the June issue of Gastroenterology.

Aspirin is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug that has been shown in many studies to reduce risk of cancer—particularly of CRC—by unknown mechanisms.

Many signaling pathways are dysregulated in cancer cells, including phosphoinositide-3-kinase (PI3K) signaling via mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR)—a serine/threonine kinase that controls cell survival and regulates cell metabolism. mTOR is overexpressed in colorectal cancer cells, and PTEN, which down-regulates mTOR, is inactivated in 30%–40% of colorectal tumors.

Farhat Din et al. therefore investigated the effects of aspirin on mTOR activity. They found that aspirin inhibited mTOR signaling in colorectal cancer cells by activating adenosine monophosphate–activated protein kinase (AMPK), a suppressor of mTOR.

mTOR is a negative regulator of a cell self-destruction process called autophagy. Din et al. also found that aspirin induced autophagy in colorectal cancer cells, probably through AMPK-mediated phosphorylation of ULK1 and inhibition of mTOR (see figure).

Aspirin activates AMPK, which inhibits mTOR signaling. Through these pathways, aspirin affects cell signaling pathways involved in mRNA stability, cell cycle, autophagy, protein translation, and ribosome biogenesis.

But does aspirin have the same effects in vivo that it has in cultured cancer cells? Din et al. found that administration of aspirin to mice activated AMPK in colon tissues. Then, they gave patients 600 mg aspirin, orally once daily for 7 days, and collected rectal mucosa samples at different timepoints during treatment. They found that the activities of mTOR were reduced in patients that took the aspirin.

Clinical trials of mTOR-specific inhibitors have been disappointing, especially for solid tumors. Studies of rapamycin, which specifically binds and inhibits mTOR, showed that a feedback loop counters mTOR inhibition. Furthermore, the long-term safety profile of mTOR-specific inhibitors is unknown, and so their use for cancer chemoprevention is not appropriate.

Din et al. propose that aspirin acts on several different cellular pathways, and that the nonspecific nature of its effects could be the key to cancer prevention. Further studies are needed to determine the complex effects of aspirin on cancer cells.

More Information on Aspirin and NSAIDS:

Read the article online.
Din FVN, Valanciute A, Houde VP, et al. Aspirin inhibits mTOR signaling, activates AMP-activated protein kinase, and induces autophagy in colorectal cancer cells. Gastroenterology 2012;142:1504-1515.e3.

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About Kristine Novak, PhD, Science Editor

Dr. Kristine Novak is the science editor for Gastroenterology and Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, both published by the American Gastroenterological Association. She has worked as an editor at biomedical research journals and as a science writer for more than 12 years, covering advances in gastroenterology, hepatology, cancer, immunology, biotechnology, molecular genetics, and clinical trials. She has a PhD in cell biology and an interest in all areas of medical research.
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One Response to How Does Aspirin Prevent Cancer?

  1. Ed says:

    Aspirin is the golden pill, but all aspirin is not equal. Most internal analgesic tablets are coated, and responsible for an epidemic of inflammatory diseases, since the enteric coated NSAID opens up in the small and large intestine, where it causes injury. Take an NSAID that dissolves in the mouth and avoids GI problems, such as Fasprin, a low-dose aspirin tablet.

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