Antioxidant Treatment Promotes Prostate Epithelial Proliferation in Nkx3.1 Mutant Mice
Discordant results in preclinical and clinical trials have raised questions over the effectiveness of antioxidants in prostate cancer chemoprevention. Results from the large-scale Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT) showed that antioxidants failed to prevent, and in some cases promoted, prostate cancer formation in men without a history of the disease. One possible explanation for these alarming results is the notion that the effects of antioxidant treatment on the prostate are modified by specific, intrinsic genetic risk factors, causing some men to respond negatively to antioxidant treatment. Loss of expression of the homeobox transcription factor NKX3.1 in the prostate is frequently associated with human prostate cancer. Nkx3.1 mutant mice display prostatic hyperplasia and dysplasia and are used as a model of the early stages of prostate cancer initiation. While the mechanisms by which Nkx3.1 loss promotes prostate tumorigenicity are not completely understood, published data have suggested that elevated reactive oxygen species (ROS) associated with Nkx3.1 loss may be a causative factor. Here we have tested this hypothesis by treating Nkx3.1 mutant mice with the antioxidant N-acetylcysteine (NAC) for 13 weeks post-weaning. Surprisingly, while NAC treatment decreased ROS levels in Nkx3.1 mutant mouse prostates, it failed to reduce prostatic epithelial hyperplasia/dysplasia. Rather, NAC treatment increased epithelial cell proliferation and promoted the expression of a pro-proliferative gene signature. These results show that ROS do not promote proliferation in the Nkx3.1-null prostate, but instead inhibit proliferation, suggesting that antioxidant treatment may encourage prostate epithelial cell proliferation early in prostate tumorigenesis. Our findings provide new insight that may help explain the increased prostate cancer risk observed with vitamin E treatment in the SELECT trial and emphasize the need for preclinical studies using accurate models of cancer.