Another mechanism discovered by which sulforaphane prevents cancer

February 28, 2012, Oregon State University
Research in the Linus Pauling Institute has found a second mechanism by which foods rich in sulforaphane, such as broccoli, can help prevent cancer. (Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture)

Researchers in the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University have discovered yet another reason why the "sulforaphane" compound in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables is so good for you – it provides not just one, but two ways to prevent cancer through the complex mechanism of epigenetics.

Epigenetics, an increasing focus of research around the world, refers not just to our genetic code, but also to the way that diet, toxins and other forces can change which genes get activated, or "expressed." This can play a powerful role in everything from cancer to heart disease and other health issues.

was identified years ago as one of the most critical compounds that provide much of the health benefits in , and scientists also knew that a mechanism involved was histone deacetylases, or HDACs. This family of enzymes can interfere with the normal function of genes that suppress tumors.

HDAC inhibitors, such as sulforaphane, can help restore proper balance and prevent the development of cancer. This is one of the most promising areas of much cancer research. But the new OSU studies have found a second epigenetic mechanism, DNA methylation, which plays a similar role.

"It appears that DNA methylation and HDAC inhibition, both of which can be influenced by sulforaphane, work in concert with each other to maintain proper cell function," said Emily Ho, an associate professor in the Linus Pauling Institute and the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences. "They sort of work as partners and talk to each other."

This one-two punch, Ho said, is important to cell function and the control of cell division – which, when disrupted, is a hallmark of cancer.

"Cancer is very complex and it's usually not just one thing that has gone wrong," Ho said. "It's increasingly clear that sulforaphane is a real multi-tasker. The more we find out about it, the more benefits it appears to have."

DNA methylation, Ho said, is a normal process of turning off genes, and it helps control what DNA material gets read as part of genetic communication within cells. In cancer that process gets mixed up. And of considerable interest to researchers is that these same disrupted processes appear to play a role in other neurodegenerative diseases, including cardiovascular disease, immune function, neurodegenerative disease and even aging.

The influence of sulforaphane on DNA methylation was explored by examining methylation of the gene cyclinD2.

This research, which was published in the journal Clinical Epigenetics, primarily studied the effect on prostate cancer cells. But the same processes are probably relevant to many other cancers as well, researchers said, including colon and breast cancer.

"With these processes, the key is balance," Ho said. "DNA methylation is a natural process, and when properly controlled is helpful. But when the balance gets mixed up it can cause havoc, and that's where some of these critical nutrients are involved. They help restore the balance."

Sulforaphane is particularly abundant in , but also found in other cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower and kale. Both laboratory and clinical studies have shown that higher intake of cruciferous vegetables can aid in prevention.

Explore further: Study confirms safety, cancer-targeting ability of nutrient in broccoli, other vegetables

More information: Promoter de-methylation of cyclin D2 by sulforaphane in prostate cancer cells, Clinical Epigenetics 2011, 3:3 doi:10.1186/1868-7083-3-3

Related Stories

Study confirms safety, cancer-targeting ability of nutrient in broccoli, other vegetables

June 9, 2011
Sulforaphane, one of the primary phytochemicals in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables that helps them prevent cancer, has been shown for the first time to selectively target and kill cancer cells while leaving normal ...

Health benefits of broccoli require the whole food, not supplements

October 11, 2011
New research has found that if you want some of the many health benefits associated with eating broccoli or other cruciferous vegetables, you need to eat the real thing – a key phytochemical in these vegetables is poorly ...

Mechanism discovered for health benefit of green tea, new approach to autoimmune disease

June 2, 2011
One of the beneficial compounds found in green tea has a powerful ability to increase the number of "regulatory T cells" that play a key role in immune function and suppression of autoimmune disease, according to new research ...

Recommended for you

Peers' genes may help friends stay in school, new study finds

January 18, 2018
While there's scientific evidence to suggest that your genes have something to do with how far you'll go in school, new research by a team from Stanford and elsewhere says the DNA of your classmates also plays a role.

Two new breast cancer genes emerge from Lynch syndrome gene study

January 18, 2018
Researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and NewYork-Presbyterian have identified two new breast cancer genes. Having one of the genes—MSH6 and PMS2—approximately doubles a woman's risk of developing breast ...

A centuries-old math equation used to solve a modern-day genetics challenge

January 18, 2018
Researchers developed a new mathematical tool to validate and improve methods used by medical professionals to interpret results from clinical genetic tests. The work was published this month in Genetics in Medicine.

Can mice really mirror humans when it comes to cancer?

January 18, 2018
A new Michigan State University study is helping to answer a pressing question among scientists of just how close mice are to people when it comes to researching cancer.

Epigenetics study helps focus search for autism risk factors

January 16, 2018
Scientists have long tried to pin down the causes of autism spectrum disorder. Recent studies have expanded the search for genetic links from identifying genes toward epigenetics, the study of factors that control gene expression ...

Group recreates DNA of man who died in 1827 despite having no body to work with

January 16, 2018
An international team of researchers led by a group with deCODE Genetics, a biopharmaceutical company in Iceland, has partly recreated the DNA of a man who died in 1827, despite having no body to take tissue samples from. ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Dokudango
not rated yet Feb 28, 2012
George Carlin anyone?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.