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Journal of Cancer Prevention

Original Article

J Cancer Prev 2021; 26(3): 195-206

Published online September 30, 2021

© Korean Society of Cancer Prevention

Docosahexaenoic Acid Inhibits Cytokine Expression by Reducing Reactive Oxygen Species in Pancreatic Stellate Cells

Sun Ah Chung , Joo Weon Lim , Hyeyong Kim

Department of Food and Nutrition, College of Human Ecology, Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea

Correspondence to :
Hyeyoung Kim, E-mail:,

Received: August 30, 2021; Revised: September 25, 2021; Accepted: September 27, 2021

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License, which permits unrestricted noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Pancreatic stellate cells (PSCs) are activated by inflammatory stimuli, such as TNF-α or viral infection. Activated PSCs play a crucial role in the development of chronic pancreatitis. Polyinosinic-polycytidylic acid (poly (I:C)) is structurally similar to double-stranded RNA and mimics viral infection. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) exhibits anti-inflammatory activity. It inhibited fibrotic mediators and reduced NF-κB activity in the pancreas of mice with chronic pancreatitis. The present study aimed to investigate whether DHA could suppress cytokine expression in PSCs isolated from rats. Cells were pre-treated with DHA or the antioxidant N-acetylcysteine (NAC) and stimulated with TNF-α or poly (I:C). Treatment with TNF-α or poly (I:C) increased the expression of monocyte chemoattractant protein 1 (MCP-1) and chemokine C-X3-C motif ligand 1 (CX3CL1), which are known chemoattractants, and enhanced intracellular and mitochondrial reactive oxygen species (ROS) production and NF-κB activity, but reduced mitochondrial membrane potential (MMP). Increased intracellular and mitochondrial ROS accumulation, cytokine expression, MMP disruption, and NF-κB activation were all prevented by DHA in TNF-α- or poly (I:C)-treated PSCs. NAC suppressed TNF-α- or poly (I:C)-induced expression of MCP-1 and CX3CL1. In conclusion, DHA inhibits poly (I:C)- or TNF-α-induced cytokine expression and NF-κB activation by reducing intracellular and mitochondrial ROS in PSCs. Consumption of DHA-rich foods may be beneficial in preventing chronic pancreatitis by inhibiting cytokine expression in PSCs.

Keywords: Cytokines, Docosahexaenoic acid, Pancreatic stellate cells, Reactive oxygen species

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