Phytosterols contain an unsaturated ring structure and therefore are susceptible to oxidation under certain conditions. Whilst the cytotoxicity of the analogous cholesterol oxidation products (COP) has been well documented, the biological effects of phytosterol oxidation products (POP)have not yet been fully ascertained. The objective of the present study was to examine the cytotoxicity of β-sitosterol oxides and their corresponding COP in a human monocytic cell line (U937), a colonic adenocarcinoma cell line (CaCo-2) and a hepatoma liver cell line (HepG2). 7β-Hydroxysitosterol, 7-ketositosterol, sitosterol-3β,5α,6β-triol and a sitosterol-5α,6α-epoxide–sitosterol-5β,6β-epoxide (6:1) mixture were found to be cytotoxic to all three cell lines employed; the mode of cell death was by apoptosis in the U937 cell line and necrosis in the CaCo-2 and HepG2 cells. 7β-Hydroxysitosterol was the only β-sitosterol oxide to cause depletion in glutathione, indicating that POP-induced apoptosis may not be dependent on the generation of an oxidative stress. A further objective of this study was to assess the ability of the antioxidants α-tocopherol, γ-tocopherol and β-carotene to modulate POP-induced cytotoxicity in U937 cells. Whilst α/γ-tocopherol protected against 7β-hydroxycholesterol-induced apoptosis, they did not confer protection against 7β-hydroxysitosterol-or 7-ketositosterol-induced toxicity, indicating that perhaps COP provoke different apoptotic pathways than POP. β-Carotene did not protect against COP- or POP-induced toxicity. In general, results indicate that POP have qualitatively similar toxic effects to COP. However, higher concentrations of POP are required to elicit comparable levels of toxicity.
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