Breast cancer cell (Wiki Commons)
Breast cancer cellWikimedia commons

A compound in Mediterranean diet could stop breast cancer cells from inhibiting their own death, according to a new study.

Researchers from Ohio State University in the United States have suggested that a compound called apigenin, found in certain plant-based foods, alters a specific step in gene regulation and aides in cancer cell death.

Parsley, celery and chamomile tea are some of the common sources of apigenin. But the compound is found in many fruits and vegetables.

Based on their research work, scientists found that apigenin binds with an estimated 160 proteins in the human body. Through its relationship with a set of proteins, the compound essentially re-educates cancer cells into normal cells.

"We know we need to eat healthfully, but in most cases we don't know the actual mechanistic reasons for why we need to do that," co-author Andrea Doseff, associate professor of internal medicine and molecular genetics at Ohio State, said in a statement.

"We see here that the beneficial effect on health is attributed to this dietary nutrient affecting many proteins. In its relationship with a set of specific proteins, apigenin re-establishes the normal profile in cancer cells. We think this can have great value clinically as a potential cancer-prevention strategy."

Based on additional experimentation, researchers found that apigenin had relationships with proteins that have three specific functions. One of the most important protein is the one called heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleo protein A2 (hnRNPA2), a multi-tasking protein that influences the activity of Messenger RNA (mRNA). Messenger RNA has the instructions needed to produce a specific protein. This mRNA is produced from the splicing, or modification, of RNA as part of gene activation.

This splicing or modification influences which protein instructions are contained in mRNA. According to Doseff, the abnormal splicing of the RNA leads to an estimated 80 percent of all cancers. "In cancer cells, two types of splicing occur when only one would take place in a normal cell -- a trick on the cancer cells' part to keep them alive and reproducing," said the researchers.

Through their research work, the team noticed that apigenin's link to the hnRNPA2 protein eliminated the splicing form that inhibited cell death and returns the single-splice characteristic to breast cancer cells.

The beneficial effects of apigenin are not just limited to cancer. The compound has earlier been found to have anti-inflammatory activities.

Doseff and his research team are now studying in mice whether food modified with right doses of apigenin could change splicing forms in the animals' cells and help in producing an anti-cancer effect.

The findings of the study are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

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