Institutional members access full text with Ovid®

Share this article on:

Isothiocyanates: mechanism of cancer chemopreventive action

Thornalley, Paul J

Minireview Paper

Dietary and synthetic isothiocyanates have cancer chemopreventive activity. Dietary isothiocyanates are formed from glucosinolate precursors of ingested green vegetables. Isothiocyanates are absorbed across intestinal cell membranes by passive diffusion and bind reversibly to plasma protein thiols by thiocarbamoylation. Free isothiocyanate enters cells and is converted to the glutathione conjugate by glutathione S-transferases (GSTs). The glutathione conjugate is exported from cells by multidrug resistance proteins (MRPs), and metabolized in the mercapturic acid pathway to the corresponding mercapturic acid. The isothiocyanate is reformed by fragmentation of mercapturic acid pathway metabolites; it is inactivated by slow hydrolysis to the corresponding amine that is inactive in chemoprevention. Depletion of cellular glutathione and protein thiocarbamoylation activates signal transduction for cancer chemoprevention. Isothiocyanates inhibited and inactivated cytochrome P450 isoforms. They induced increased expression of GST, NADPH: quinone oxidoreductase, aldo–keto reductase and γ-glutamylcysteine synthetase. These responses were coordinated at the transcription level by nuclear factor-erythroid 2 p45-related factor-2 acting through the antioxidant/electrophile enhancer response element and stimulated by the mitogen-activated protein kinase/extracellular signal-regulated kinase kinase kinase-1 and c-Jun N-terminal kinase-1 (JNK1) pathway. Isothiocyanates also induced apoptosis of pre-cancerous cells and tumor cells activated by caspase-8 and potentiated by JNK1. The chemopreventive activity of isothiocyanates is influenced by the isothiocyanate bioavailability—as is toxicity, GST polymorphism, protein thiocarbamoylation and probably also by MRP expression. These features of isothiocyanate metabolism and chemoprevention deserve further investigation.

Department of Biological Sciences, University of Essex, Colchester CO4 3SQ, Essex, UK

Correspondence to PJ Thornalley, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Essex, Central Campus, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester, Essex CO4 3SQ, UK

Tel/Fax: (+44) 1206 873010; E-mail:

Received 2 January 2002 accepted 21 January 2002

© 2002 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.