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Omega 3 fatty acids increase the chemo-sensitivity of B-CLL-derived cell lines EHEB and MEC-2 and of B-PLL-derived cell line JVM-2 to anti-cancer drugs doxorubicin, vincristine and fludarabine

Johannes F Fahrmann and W Elaine Hardman*

Author Affiliations

Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, Marshall University School of Medicine, Huntington, WV, USA

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Lipids in Health and Disease 2013, 12:36  doi:10.1186/1476-511X-12-36

Published: 16 March 2013



B-Cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is the most common form of leukemia in the United States. Clinical treatment of CLL is often limited due to drug resistance and severe therapy-induced toxicities. We hypothesized that the omega 3 (n-3) fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and/or docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), would increase the sensitivity of malignant B-lymphocytes to anti-cancer drugs doxorubicin, vincristine and/or fludarabine in vitro and that increased sensitivity is achieved by alterations in cell-cycle progression leading to growth inhibition and/or enhanced cell death. We further postulate that enhanced sensitivity is dependent on the formation of lipid peroxides and to the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS).


In the present study, B-CLL-derived leukemic cell lines EHEB and MEC-2 and the B-Prolymphocytic leukemic-derived (PLL) cell line JVM-2 were tested for in vitro sensitivity against doxorubicin, vincristine or fludarabine in the presence or absence of vehicle, arachidonic acid (omega 6), EPA or DHA. Cell cycle analysis and Annexin-V assays were performed to determine cell cycle progression and % apoptotic cells, respectively. Assays for malondialdehyde, a measure of lipid peroxidation, and DCF fluorescence assays, a measure of intracellular ROS, were performed to determine if enhanced sensitivity of cells to the drugs by n-3 was dependent on the formation of ROS.


Our results indicated that: 1) EPA and DHA differentially sensitized B-leukemic cell lines EHEB, JVM-2 and MEC-2 to doxorubicin, vincristine and fludarabine in vitro; 2) n-3 alone and with drug treatment increased cell death and induced G2/M arrest in a cell-type specific manner; 3) lipid peroxidation increased in the presence of n-3; 4) there was higher lipid peroxidation in MEC-2 cells in presence of DHA and doxorubicin than with either alone; 5) n-3 increased generation of ROS in MEC-2, and 6) the addition of vitamin-E abrogated the increase in ROS generation and chemo-sensitivity of MEC-2 to doxorubicin by DHA.


N-3’s are promising chemo-sensitizing agents for the treatment of CLL. Selective enhancement of chemo-sensitivity of EHEB, JVM-2 and MEC-2 to drugs by n-3 that is not dependent on increased lipid peroxidation and ROS generation indicates alternative mechanisms by which n-3 enhances chemo-sensitivity.

Omega 3; Chemo-sensitization; Chronic lymphocytic leukemia