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Vitamin E Forms – Bioavailability and Protective Effects on Colitis and Colon Cancer

posted on 12.10.2021, 14:04 by Kilia Y LiuKilia Y Liu

Vitamin E is a natural lipophilic antioxidant contains eight structurally related forms, i.e., α-, β-, γ-, δ-tocopherols (αT, βT, γT, and δT) and corresponding tocotrienols. Recent research indicates that vitamin E forms are differentially metabolized to various carboxychromanols. Some these vitamin E metabolites have been shown to exhibit strong anti-inflammatory and anticancer effects, yet little is known about their bioavailability. Without this knowledge, it is impossible to assess the role of vitamin E metabolism in biological functions of vitamin E forms and their protective effects on chronic diseases. While αT and γT appear to improved gut health, the underlying mechanisms are not well understood. Furthermore, specific forms of vitamin E such as γT have been reported to have cancer-preventing effects, but their anticancer efficacy is relatively modest. For these reasons, this dissertation focused on the characterization of the pharmacokinetic formation of vitamin E metabolites after supplementation, and the investigation of the underlying mechanisms of the protective effect of vitamin E forms, αT and γT, on gut health, as well as anticancer efficacy of the combination of aspirin and γT on carcinogen-induced colon tumorigenesis.

The first project focuses on characterizing the pharmacokinetic formation of vitamin E metabolites after single dose supplementation of γ-tocopherol-rich mixed tocopherol (γTmT) and δ-tocotrienol (δTE). With our recently developed LC/MS/MS assay for quantifying vitamin E metabolites, we can simultaneously quantify the level of short-chain, long-chain, and sulfated carboxychromanols in plasma, urine, and fecal samples of supplemented animals. In this study, we investigated the pharmacokinetics including excretion of vitamin E forms and the formation of their metabolites after a single dose intragastric administration of tocopherols and tocotrienols in rats. We also measured vitamin E metabolites in the serum obtained from healthy humans after gT supplementation. In the plasma of rat, the pharmacokinetic profiles of γT and δTE are described as the following: γT, Cmax = 25.6 ± 9.1 μM, Tmax = 4 h; δTE, Cmax = 16.0 ± 2.3 μM, Tmax = 2 h. Sulfated CEHCs and sulfated 11’-COOHs were the predominant metabolites in the plasma of rat with Cmax of 0.4-0.5 μM (Tmax ~ 5-7 h) or ~0.3 μM (Tmax at 4.7 h), respectively. In 24-h urine, 2.7% of γT and 0.7% of dTE were excreted as conjugated CEHCs, the major identified urinary metabolites. In the feces, 17-45% of supplemented vitamers were excreted as un-metabolized forms and 4.9-9.2% as metabolites. The majority of metabolites excreted in feces were unconjugated carboxychromanols, among which 13’-COOHs constituted ~50% of total metabolites. Interestingly, 13’-COOHs derived from δTE were 2-fold higher than 13’-COOH from γT. Unlike rats, γ-CEHC is the predominant metabolites found in human plasma, although 11’-COOHs and 13’-COOHs (sulfated and unconjugated) were elevated by >20 folds responding to γT supplement. In this study, we found that tocopherols and tocotrienols, when taken as supplements, are mainly excreted as un-metabolized forms and long-chain carboxychromanols in feces. High fecal availability of 13’-COOHs may contribute to modulating effects on gut health.

The second project of my dissertation investigated the effect of vitamin E forms, αT and γT, on intestinal barrier function in a cellular model and a mouse colitis model. Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) are chronic idiopathic inflammatory conditions characterized by disruption of intestinal barrier integrity. Previous studies by others and us had demonstrated that vitamin E forms, αT and γT, can protect against chemical-induced colitis in animal models. However, the role of these vitamin E forms on intestinal barrier function has not been studied. Herein, we investigated the potential protective effects of vitamin E forms, αT and γT, on intestinal barrier function in a Caco-2 colon epithelial cell model and a dextran sodium sulfate (DSS)-induced colitis mouse model. In Caco-2 cells, pretreatment with 25mM αT and γT attenuated Caco-2 monolayer barrier dysfunction induced by 10 ng/mL TNF-α/IFN-γ, suggesting that these vitamin E forms protect intestinal barrier integrity in this cellular model. In male BALB/c mice, the supplementation of αT (0.05%) or γTmT (0.05%) when given 3 weeks before DSS treatment or at the same time as DSS treatment alleviated DSS-induced fecal bleeding and diarrhea symptoms in mice, and attenuated colon inflammation and colitis-associated damages. Additionally, αT and γTmT supplementation attenuated DSS-induced intestinal barrier dysfunction, as indicated by improving the level of occludin, a tight junction protein, in the colon and reducing lipopolysaccharide-binding protein (LBP) in the plasma. Furthermore, gut microbiota analysis demonstrated that αT and γTmT supplementation could modulate intestinal microbiome composition in mice with DSS treatment. DSS treatment reduced the relative abundance of Lachnospiraceae compared to healthy mice, and supplementation of αT and γT partially reversed this effect. Interestingly, the family Lachnospiraceae has been reported to decrease in IBD patients. Our study demonstrated the protective effects of vitamin E forms on intestinal barrier integrity in a cell-based model and a colitis model in mice. Furthermore, we demonstrated that these vitamin E forms caused favorable changes in the intestinal microbial population under colitis condition.

The third project of my dissertation evaluated the anticancer efficacy of the combination of aspirin and γT using an azoxymethane (AOM)-induced and colitis-promoted colon tumorigenesis mouse model. Extensive inflammation in the colon promotes the development of colorectal cancer (CRC). Eicosanoid production by pro-inflammatory enzymes, cyclooxygenases (COX-1 and COX-2) and 5-lipoxygenase (5-LOX) play a critical role in the initiation, progression, and invasion of CRC. Thus, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, have been recommended for chemoprevention of CRC. However, long-term use of aspirin can cause many side effects, and the anticancer activity of aspirin is very modest. Previously, we have demonstrated that the combination of γT with aspirin prolonged the anti-inflammatory activity of aspirin and alleviated aspirin-associated adverse effects in a carrageenan-induced inflammation model in rats. Additionally, we found that the combination of γT and aspirin has stronger anticancer activity than aspirin or γT alone against HCT-116 human colorectal carcinoma cells. Therefore, we examined the anticancer effect of the combination of 0.025% aspirin and 0.05% γT against AOM-induced and DSS-promoted tumorigenesis in mice. In this study, we have found that the combination of aspirin and γT, but not aspirin or γT alone, suppressed colon tumorigenesis in mice, as indicated by 40% and 50% reduction in the multiplicity of total polyps (P < 0.05) and large adenomatous polyps (>2mm2, P < 0.05), respectively. More strikingly, the combination of aspirin and γT reduced the overall tumor area by 60% (P < 0.05). Noteworthy, the supplementation of γT also alleviated aspirin-induced stomach lesion and appeared to modulate intestinal microbial composition. Our study demonstrated that the combination of aspirin and γT has stronger anticancer activity than aspirin or γT alone while alleviates aspirin-associated adverse effect, suggesting that the combination of γT and aspirin is a more effective and safer chemopreventive agent for CRC than aspirin alone.


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy


Nutrition Science

Campus location

West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair


Additional Committee Member 2


Additional Committee Member 3


Additional Committee Member 4