Does lack of tocopherols and tocotrienols put women at increased risk of breast cancer?

Schwenke DC.

J Nutr Biochem. 2002 Jan;13(1):2-20.

Breast cancer is the leading site of new cancers in women and the second leading cause (after lung cancer) of cancer mortality in women. Observational studies that have collected data for dietary exposure to alpha-tocopherol with or without the other related tocopherols and tocotrienolshave suggested that vitamin E from dietary sources may provide women with modest protection from breast cancer. However, there is no evidence that vitamin E supplements confer any protection whatever against breast cancer. Observational studies that have assessed exposure to vitamin E by plasma or adipose tissue concentrations of alpha-tocopherol have failed to provide consistent support for the idea that alpha-tocopherol provides any protection against breast cancer. In addition, evidence from studies in experimental animals suggest that alpha-tocopherol supplementation alone has little effect on mammary tumors. In contrast, studies in breast cancer cells indicate that alpha- gamma-, and delta-tocotrienol, and to a lesser extent delta-tocopherol, have potent antiproliferative and proapoptotic effects that would be expected to reduce risk of breast cancer. Many vegetable sources of alpha-tocopherol also contain other tocopherols or tocotrienols. Thus, it seems plausible that the modest protection from breast cancer associated with dietary vitamin E may be due to the effects of the other tocopherols and the tocotrienols in the diet. Additional studies will be required to determine whether this may be the case, and to identify the most active tocopherol/tocotrienol.

Alpha-tocopherol and its esterified derivatives have been shown to be effective in reducing monocytic-endothelial cell adhesion. However, the effect of alpha-tocotrienol (alpha-T3) has not been characterized. In the present study, using human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC) as the model system, we examined the relative inhibitory effects of alpha-T3 and other vitamin E derivatives on cell surface adhesion molecule expression under TNF-alpha stimulation. Using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, we demonstrated that alpha-T3 markedly inhibited the surface expression of vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 in TNF-alpha activated HUVEC in a dose- and time-dependent manner. The optimal inhibition was observed at 25 micromol/l alpha-T3 within 24 h (77+/-5%) without cytotoxicity. In addition, the surface expression of intercellular adhesion molecule-1 and E-selectin were also reduced by 40+/-7 and 42+/-5%, respectively. In order to further evaluate the effects of alpha-T3 on the vascular endothelium, we investigated the ability of monocytes to adhere to endothelial cells. Interestingly, a 63+/-3% decrease in monocytic cell adherence was observed. Compared to alpha-tocopherol and alpha-tocopheryl succinate, alpha-T3 displayed a more profound inhibitory effect on adhesion molecule expression and monocytic cell adherence. This inhibitory action by alpha-T3 on TNF-alpha-induced monocyte adhesion was shown to be NF-kappaB dependent and was interestingly reversed with co-incubation with farnesol and geranylgeraniol, suggesting a role for prenylated proteins in the regulation of adhesion molecule expression. In summary, the above results suggest that alpha-T3 is a potent and effective agent in the reduction of cellular adhesion molecule expression and monocytic cell adherence.