A large number of basic researches and observational studies suggested the cancer preventive activity of vitamin E, but large-scale human intervention trials have yielded disappointing results and actually showed a higher incidence of prostate cancer although the mechanisms underlying the increased risk remain largely unknown. Here we show through in vitro and in vivo studies that vitamin E produces a marked inductive effect on carcinogen-bioactivating enzymes and a pro-oxidant status promoting both DNA damage and cell transformation frequency. First, we found that vitamin E in the human prostate epithelial RWPE-1 cell line has the remarkable ability to upregulate the expression of various phase-I activating cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes, including activators of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), giving rise to supraphysiological levels of reactive oxygen species. Furthermore, our rat model confirmed that vitamin E in the prostate has a powerful booster effect on CYP enzymes associated with the generation of oxidative stress, thereby favoring lipid-derived electrophile spread that covalently modifies proteins. We show that vitamin E not only causes DNA damage but also promotes cell transformation frequency induced by the PAH-prototype benzo[a]pyrene. Our findings might explain why dietary supplementation with vitamin E increases the prostate cancer risk among healthy men.
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