Apoptotic activity of the marine diatom Cocconeis scutellum and eicosapentaenoic acid in BT20 cells

Michela Nappo, Strahil Berkov, Carlotta Massucco, Valentina Di Maria, Jaume Bastida, Carles Codina, Conxita Avila, Patrizia Messina, Valerio Zupo, Simona Zupo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Context: The marine diatoms Cocconeis scutellum Ehrenberg (Bacillariophyceae) are known to trigger apoptosis in the androgenic gland of the Mediterranean crustacean Hippolyte inermis Leach (Decapoda), affecting the shrimp's sex reversal. Objective: The aim of this study was to evaluate a possible apoptotic effect of extracts and fractions from these microalgae also on human tissues. Materials and methods: The chemical profile of C. scutellum was determined by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and, afterwards, organic extracts and fractions from the diatoms were used to treat to breast cancer BT20 cells. Double labeling with annexin V-FITC and isotonic propidium iodide (PI) along with flow cytometry analysis enabled the evaluate of cell apoptosis and viability, whereas hypotonic PI staining was used to analyze the cell cycle in BT20 lines. The involvement of specific caspases was studied by Western blotting. Results: Results demonstrated that the diethyl ether extract and, in particular, fraction 3, the richest fraction in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) from the diethyl ether extract, selectively induced apoptosis (up to 89.2% at 1 μg/well of fraction 3) and decreased viability in BT20 cells. The apoptotic effect was displayed in a concentration and time-dependent manner, by activating caspases-8 and 3, and arresting the progression of the cell cycle from S to G2-M phase. EPA alone showed similar apoptotic effects in BT20 cells. Discussion and conclusion: The study demonstrates the apoptotic activity of C. scutellum diatoms on breast cancer cells and suggests their potential use as a source of apoptotic compounds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)529-535
Number of pages7
JournalPharmaceutical Biology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2012


  • Apoptosis
  • Caspases
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Drug Discovery
  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmaceutical Science
  • Complementary and alternative medicine
  • Molecular Medicine


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