Background: Aspirin intake reduces the risk of colorectal cancer (CRC), but the molecular underpinnings remain elusive. Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), which is overexpressed in about 80% of CRC cases, is implicated in the etiology of CRC. Here, we investigated whether aspirin can prevent CRC by normalizing EGFR expression. Methods: Immunohistochemistry staining was performed on paraffin-embedded tissue sections from normal colon mucosa, adenomatous polyps from FAP patients who were classified as regular aspirin users or nonusers. The interplay between cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) and EGFR was studied in primary intestinal epithelial cells isolated from ApcMin mice, immortalized normal human colon epithelial cells (HCECs) as well as murine embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs). Results: Immunohistochemistry staining results established that EGFR overexpression is an early event in colorectal tumorigenesis, which can be greatly attenuated by regular use of aspirin. Importantly, EGFR and COX-2 were co-overexpressed and co-localized with each other in FAP patients. Further mechanistic studies revealed that COX-2 overexpression triggers the activation of the c-Jun-dependent transcription factor, activator protein-1 (AP-1), which binds to the Egfr promoter. Binding facilitates the cellular accumulation of EGFR and lowers the threshold required for pre-neoplastic cells to undergo transformation. Conclusion: Aspirin might exert its chemopreventive activity against CRC, at least partially, by normalizing EGFR expression in gastrointestinal precancerous lesions.
- Colorectal cancer
- Epidermal growth factor receptor
- Familial adenomatous polyposis