Epidemiological evidence and studies in whole animals and cell culture have indicated that carotenoids have cancer chemopreventive action. In mouse C3H10T1/2 cells, this activity is highly correlated with the ability of carotenoids to up-regulate gap junctional intercellular communication. Here, we report that in mouse cells, carotenoids increase the expression of connexin43, a gene that encodes a major gap junction protein. This effect appears unrelated to their provitamin A or antioxidant properties, since carotenoids with and without provitamin A activity increased levels of connexin43 mRNA and protein, whereas the antioxidants methyl-bixin and α-tocopherol were inactive. Moreover, the active carotenoid canthaxanthin did not induce the vitamin A-inducible gene retinoic acid receptor-β. Connexin43 is the first carotenoid-inducible gene described in mammals. By indicating an additional pathway through which carotenoids function, these data provide a mechanistic basis for cancer chemoprevention by carotenoids and may lead to a re-evaluation of carotenoid physiology.
This research was supported by Grant BC686 from the American Cancer Society.