Low-density lipoprotein docosahexaenoic acid nanoparticles induce ferroptotic cell death in hepatocellular carcinoma

Weijun Ou, Rohit S. Mulik, Arnida Anwar, Jeffrey G. McDonald, Xiaoshun He, Ian R. Corbin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

121 Scopus citations


Low-density lipoprotein nanoparticles reconstituted with the natural omega-3 fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid (LDL-DHA), have been reported to selectively kill hepatoma cells and reduce the growth of orthotopic liver tumors in the rat. To date, little is known about the cell death pathways by which LDL-DHA nanoparticles kill tumor cells. Here we show that the LDL-DHA nanoparticles are cytotoxic to both rat hepatoma and human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) cell lines. Following LDL-DHA treatment both rat and human HCC cells experience pronounced lipid peroxidation, depletion of glutathione and inactivation of the lipid antioxidant glutathione peroxidase-4 (GPX4) prior to cell death. Inhibitor studies revealed that the treated HCC cells die independent of apoptotic, necroptotic or autophagic pathways, but require the presence of cellular iron. These hallmark features are consistent and were later confirmed to reflect ferroptosis, a novel form of nonapoptotic iron-dependent cell death. In keeping with the mechanisms of ferroptosis cell death, GPX4 was also found to be a central regulator of LDL-DHA induced tumor cell killing. We also investigated the effects of LDL-DHA treatments in mice bearing human HCC tumor xenografts. Intratumoral injections of LDL-DHA severely inhibited the growth of HCC xenografts long term. Consistent with our in vitro findings, the LDL-DHA treated HCC tumors experienced ferroptotic cell death characterized by increased levels of tissue lipid hydroperoxides and suppression of GPX4 expression. Conclusion: LDL-DHA induces cell death in HCC cells through the ferroptosis pathway, this represents a novel molecular mechanism of anticancer activity for LDL-DHA nanoparticles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)597-607
Number of pages11
JournalFree Radical Biology and Medicine
StatePublished - Nov 2017


  • Docosahexaenoic acid
  • Ferroptosis
  • Glutathione peroxidase
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma
  • Low-density lipoprotein
  • Nanoparticle

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Physiology (medical)


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