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Esophageal adenocarcinoma (EA) is one of the fastest rising tumors in the USA. The major risk factor for EA is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). During GERD, esophageal cells are exposed to refluxate which contains gastric acid frequently mixed with duodenal bile. This may lead to mucosal injury and Barrett's metaplasia (BE) that are important factors contributing to development of EA. In this study, we investigated DNA damage in BE cells exposed to acidic bile salts and explored for potential protective strategies. Exposure of BE cells to acidic bile salts led to significant DNA damage, which in turn, was due to generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). We found that acidic bile salts induce a rapid increase in superoxide radicals and hydrogen peroxide, which were determined using electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy and Amplex Red assay. Analyzing a panel of natural antioxidants, we identified apocynin to be the most effective in protecting esophageal cells from DNA damage induced by acidic bile salts. Mechanistic analyses showed that apocynin inhibited ROS generation and increases the DNA repair capacity of BE cells. We identified BRCA1 and p73 proteins as apocynin targets. Downregulation of p73 inhibited the protective effect of apocynin. Taken together, our results suggest potential application of natural compounds such as apocynin for prevention of reflux-induced DNA damage and GERD-associated tumorigenesis.
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