New research has linked a compound found in Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and other cruciferous vegetables to one of the body’s most potent tumor-suppressing genes, Harvard Gazette says.
The study says that the compound, called I3C, is involved in a complex chemical chain reaction that frees the tumor suppressor to do its job. The research also highlights the chemical warfare that goes on inside the body as it struggles to prevent tumors from developing even as tumors themselves fight to grow and spread.
The research comes out of the lab of Pier Paolo Pandolfi at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center’s Cancer Center and Cancer Research Institute. Pandolfi, the Victor J. Aresty Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, headed a team that explored the function of a cancer-suppressing gene called PTEN, which encodes a protein that controls cell growth. Pandolfi called PTEN “one of the most important tumor suppressors in the history of cancer genetics.
“The study’s really exciting,” he said. “I’ve been bombarded by journalists — because of the broccoli connection, let’s be honest. Forget what you think about the science, the fact that [we found] something that your grandma would say [is] good for you, it’s appealing.”
PTEN is regularly targeted by cancers, which seek to delete, mutate, or otherwise inactivate it. Pandolfi and his team, representing institutions in the U.S., Taiwan, China, Italy, Australia, and India, set out to discover how. Using human cells and mice bred to develop cancer, the researchers found that an enzyme known to promote cancer growth, called WWP1, played an important role in interfering with PTEN function.
The researchers analyzed and created a computer model of WWP1’s physical structure, enabling them to search chemical libraries for a molecule that might bind to it and block its function. They discovered that a naturally occurring compound found in cruciferous vegetables — indole-3-carbinol, or I3C — did the trick, neutralizing the enzyme and restoring PTEN’s tumor-suppressing powers in lab mice engineered to develop prostate cancer.