Differential anti-cancer effects of purified EPA and DHA and possible mechanisms involved.

Gabriella Calviello, Simona Serini, Elena Fasano, Elisabetta Piccioni, Achille Renato Maria Cittadini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As the concepts of pharmaconutrition are receiving increasing attention, it seems essential to clearly assess the effects of specific dietary compounds in specific groups of patients or clinical conditions. We are herein interested in better defining the differential anti-neoplastic effects of the two major n-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids present in fish oil, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The efficiency of these fatty acids represents a subject of intense interest and debate, and whereas plenty of preclinical studies have strongly demonstrated their preventive and therapeutic effect in different kinds of cancers, the results of the epidemiologic studies are still controversial, and only a few trials have been performed. It has been reported that EPA and DHA may act either through the same or different mechanisms, thus suggesting that a differential efficacy could exist. At present, however, this point has not been clarified, although its better comprehension would allow a more proper and effective use of these fatty acids in the human interventional studies. In an attempt to elucidate this aspect we have herein analyzed the data obtained in the studies which have directly compared the antitumor effects of separate treatments with EPA or DHA. Most of the in vitro data indicate DHA as the more powerful antineoplastic agent. However, an equivalent efficiency of EPA and DHA is suggested by the few in vivo studies. Possible reasons for this discrepancy are discussed and pathways of cell growth that could be differentially influenced by EPA and DHA are described.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4065-4075
Number of pages11
JournalCurrent Medicinal Chemistry
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • Differential anti-cancer effects
  • Docosahexaenoic acid
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid


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