Mediterranean Diet Compound Makes Cancer Cells ‘Mortal’

Recent research indicates that a compound often found in Mediterranean food can eliminate cancer cells’ ability to escape death. By changing a very specific step in the regulation of genes, this compound can re-educate cancer cells to change into normal cells that die naturally over time. This research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A key way that cancer cells are able to grow unchecked is by blocking a mechanism that would trigger their death on a regular cycle that is subject to strict programming. Led by Ohio State University researchers, this study has found that a compound within certain plant-based foods, known as apigenin, could halt breast cancer cells from preventing their own demise.

A great deal of what is known about the health benefits of nutrients is the result of epidemiological studies that have found links between consumption of specific foods and improved health outcomes, especially a reduction in heart disease. But the process behind the function of the actual molecules within these healthy foods remains a mystery in many cases, and especially with regards to foods linked to lower risk for cancer.

Foods known to be common sources of apigenin are celery, parsley, and chamomile tea. However, it is also found in a number of fruits and vegetables.  Researchers also demonstrated that apigenin can bind with close to 160 proteins in the human body, indicating that other nutrients connected to health benefits – known as “nutraceuticals” – may have similar far-reaching effects. In contrast, most pharmaceutical drugs only focus on a solitary molecule.

The researchers were able to establish that apigenin had relationships with proteins that have three specific functions. Amongst these was a critical protein known as hnRNPA2. This protein influences the function of mRNA that contains instructions for the production of specific proteins. The production of mRNA is the result of splicing or modifying of RNA that occurs in gene activation.

Lead author, Andrea Doseff, notes that abnormal splicing is the main cause in close to 80 percent of all cancers. In cancer cells, two type of splicing takes place when only one occurs in normal cell function – an effective trick used by cancer cells to continue living and reproducing.

In this study, investigators observed that apigenin’s link to the hnRPNA2 protein restored breast cancer cells to the normal single-splice characteristic. This suggested that when splicing is normal, cells die in a programmed manner, or become more receptive to chemotherapy medication.

Doseff concludes by stating that in applying this nutrient, we can turn on the cancer mortality mechanism. The nutrient blocked the splicing characteristic that prevented cell death. This indicates that when we eat healthy foods, we are actually promoting more normal splicing mechanisms within the cells in our bodies.



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