The nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug sulindac is known to inhibit chemical carcinogenesis in rodent models and cause regression of adenomas in patients with adenomatous polyposis coli. Sulindac is a prodrug that is metabolized to a pharmacologically active sulfide derivative that potently inhibits prostaglandin synthesis. Recent studies, however, have shown that a sulfone derivative of sulindac, which essentially lacks prostaglandin synthesis inhibitory activity, also inhibits chemical carcinogenesis, suggesting that reduction of prostaglandin levels is not necessary for the antineoplastic activity of this class of drugs. Both sulindac sulfide and the sulfone inhibit the growth of cultured tumor cells, although the cellular mechanism(s) responsible for the antineoplastic activity of sulindac derivatives is unknown. In this study, we investigated the effects of sulindac sulfide and sulfone on the proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis of HT-29 human colon carcinoma cells. Sulindac sulfide and sulfone significantly reduced cell number in both preconfluent and confluent cultures of HT-29 cells with the sulfide showing approximately 4-fold greater potency. In addition to HT-29 cells, both drugs inhibited the growth of a variety of tumor cell lines derived from other tissues, as well as normal epithelial cells and fibroblasts. Neither sulindac sulfide nor sulfone inhibited cell proliferation under conditions where the drugs were growth inhibitory. Only under specific conditions involving mitogenic stimulation did sulindac sulfide and sulfone cause cell cycle arrest. Neither sulindac sulfide nor the sulfone induced differentiation of HT-29 cells, but both drugs strongly induced apoptosis. The apoptotic response to sulindac sulfide and sulfone was both time- and dose-dependent and involved a mechanism independent of their inhibitory effect on cell cycle progression. These data suggest that apoptosis is responsible for the cell growth inhibitory activity of sulindac sulfide and sulfone and represents a potential mechanism for the antineoplastic activity of these drugs.


Supported by Cell Pathways Inc., and Veterans Administration Merit Review Grant 1312 and the Flow Cytometry and Immunology Shared Resources of the University of Colorado Cancer Center. D. J. A. is the recipient of a Department of Veterans Affairs Clinical Investigator Award.

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