Researchers at Ohio University have determined that apigenin, (a naturally occurring plant flavenoid), alters cancer cells to make them “mortal”. The compound is found abundantly in the Mediterranean diet and essentially re-educates cancer cells into normal cells, causing them to die on a regular cycle. Apigenin is found in parsley, celery and chamomile tea and in a variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs and binds with approximately 160 proteins in the human body.
Through additional experimentation, the team established that apigenin influenced proteins that have three specific functions. Among the most important was a protein called hnRNPA2, which influences the activity of messenger RNA, or mRNA, and contains the instructions needed to produce a specific protein. The production of mRNA results from the splicing, or modification, of RNA that occurs as part of gene activation. The nature of the splice ultimately influences which protein instructions the mRNA contains.
Doseff specified that abnormal splicing is the culprit in 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.
In this study, the researchers observed that apigenin’s connection to the hnRNPA2 protein restored this single-splice characteristic to breast cancer cells, suggesting that when splicing is normal, cells die in a programmed way, or become more sensitive to chemotherapeutic drugs.
“So by applying this nutrient, we can activate that killing machinery. The nutrient eliminated the splicing form that inhibited cell death,” said Doseff, also an investigator in Ohio State’s Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute. “Thus, this suggests that when we eat healthfully, we are actually promoting more normal splice forms inside the cells in our bodies.”
“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,” said Andrea Doseff, associate professor of internal medicine and molecular genetics at Ohio State and a co-lead author of the study. “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.”
“You can imagine all the potentially affected proteins as tiny fishes in a big bowl. We introduce this molecule to the bowl and effectively lure only the truly affected proteins based on structural characteristics that form an attraction,” Doseff said. “We know this is a real partnership because we can see that the proteins and apigenin bind to each other.”
The beneficial effects of nutraceuticals are not limited to cancer, as the investigators previously showed that apigenin has anti-inflammatory activities.
The scientists noted that with its multiple cellular targets, apigenin potentially offers a variety of additional benefits that may even occur over time. “The nutrient is targeting many players, and by doing that, you get an overall synergy of the effect,” Grotewold explained.
Ohio State University