Open Access Research article

Regional differences in prostaglandin E2 metabolism in human colorectal cancer liver metastases

Alastair L Young12, Claire R Chalmers12, Gillian Hawcroft1, Sarah L Perry1, Darren Treanor3, Giles J Toogood2, Pamela F Jones1 and Mark A Hull1*

Author Affiliations

1 Section of Molecular Gastroenterology, Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine, University of Leeds, St James’s University Hospital, Leeds LS9 7TF, UK

2 Department of Hepatobiliary Surgery, St James’s University Hospital, Leeds LS9 7TF,UK

3 Department of Pathology and Tumour Biology, Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine, University of Leeds, Leeds LS9 7TF, UK

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BMC Cancer 2013, 13:92  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-13-92

Published: 26 February 2013



Prostaglandin (PG) E2 plays a critical role in colorectal cancer (CRC) progression, including epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Activity of the rate-limiting enzyme for PGE2 catabolism (15-hydroxyprostaglandin dehydrogenase [15-PGDH]) is dependent on availability of NAD+. We tested the hypothesis that there is intra-tumoral variability in PGE2 content, as well as in levels and activity of 15-PGDH, in human CRC liver metastases (CRCLM). To understand possible underlying mechanisms, we investigated the relationship between hypoxia, 15-PGDH and PGE2 in human CRC cells in vitro.


Tissue from the periphery and centre of 20 human CRCLM was analysed for PGE2 levels, 15-PGDH and cyclooxygenase (COX)-2 expression, 15-PGDH activity, and NAD+/NADH levels. EMT of LIM1863 human CRC cells was induced by transforming growth factor (TGF) β.


PGE2 levels were significantly higher in the centre of CRCLM compared with peripheral tissue (P = 0.04). There were increased levels of 15-PGDH protein in the centre of CRCLM associated with reduced 15-PGDH activity and low NAD+/NADH levels. There was no significant heterogeneity in COX-2 protein expression. NAD+ availability controlled 15-PGDH activity in human CRC cells in vitro. Hypoxia induced 15-PGDH expression in human CRC cells and promoted EMT, in a similar manner to PGE2. Combined 15-PGDH expression and loss of membranous E-cadherin (EMT biomarker) were present in the centre of human CRCLM in vivo.


There is significant intra-tumoral heterogeneity in PGE2 content, 15-PGDH activity and NAD+ availability in human CRCLM. Tumour micro-environment (including hypoxia)-driven differences in PGE2 metabolism should be targeted for novel treatment of advanced CRC.

Colorectal cancer; Epithelial-mesenchymal transition; Hypoxia; Liver metastasis; Prostaglandin