Oil production waste products (OPWPs) derive from olive mill and represent a crucial environmental problem due to their high polyphenolic content able to pollute the ground. One option to reduce the OPWPs’ environmental impact is to exploit polyphenols’ biological properties. We sought to analyze the transcriptomic variations of colorectal cancer cells exposed to the OPWPs extracts and hydroxytyrosol, the major component, to recognize unknown and ill-defined characteristics. Among the top affected pathways identified by GSEA, we focused on oxidative phosphorylation in an in vitro system. Colorectal cancer HCT116 and LoVo cells treated with hydroxytyrosol or OPWPs extracts showed enhancement of the respiratory chain complexes’ protein levels, ATP production and membrane potential, suggesting stimulation of mitochondrial functions. The major proteins involved in mitochondrial biogenesis and fusion events of mitochondrial dynamics were positively affected, as by Western blot, fostering increase of the mitochondrial mass organized in a network of elongated organelles. Mechanistically, we proved that PPARγ mediates the effects as they are mimicked by a specific ligand and impaired by a specific inhibitor. OPWP extracts and hydroxytyrosol, thus, promote mitochondrial functionality via a feed-forward regulatory loop involving the PPARγ/PGC-1α axis. These results support their use in functional foods and as adjuvants in cancer therapy.
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