Anticarcinogenesis by dietary phytochemicals: Cytoprotection by Nrf2 in normal cells and cytotoxicity by modulation of transcription factors NF-κB and AP-1 in abnormal cancer cells

Avanthika Gopalakrishnan, Ah Ng Tony Kong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

88 Scopus citations


Cancer statistics from the American Cancer Society and other sources are a stark reminder of our failure to combat this deadly disease. Chemoprevention entails the use of specific naturally occurring dietary or synthetic agents to thwart cancer development and progression. Some of these agents are believed to do so by protecting the cells or tissues from the malicious attack of exogenous carcinogens and/or endogenous reactive oxygen/nitrogen species (RONS) by inducing several detoxifying/antioxidant enzymes that appear to form stable conjugates such as glutathione, glucuronides or sulfates thus rendering the carcinogenic species harmless. This process of inducing the cellular defense enzymes is believed to be mediated by the antioxidant response elements (ARE) within the promoter regions of these genes. Nrf2, a redox sensitive transcription factor has been documented to play a central role in ARE-driven gene expression. Nrf2, under normal unstimulated conditions, remains sequestered in the cytosol by Keap1. The putative chemopreventive agents disrupt the Nrf2-Keap1 association, thereby releasing Nrf2 which then translocates to the nucleus and drives the gene expression of detoxifying enzymes. The role of other transcription factors such as NF-κB and AP-1 in carcinogenesis is well established. By modulating the activity of these transcription factors and their upstream signaling molecules, naturally occurring dietary phytochemicals appear to cause apoptosis in abnormal cells that over-express these factors, thereby inhibiting the promotion and progression. This review discusses the most current and up to date understanding of the possible signaling mechanisms by which these naturally dietary phytochemicals can differentially modulate signal transduction cascades such that they can bring about apoptosis/cell death in abnormal cancer cells but at the same time induce defensive enzymes to protect against carcinogenesis in normal cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1257-1270
Number of pages14
JournalFood and Chemical Toxicology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2008


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Food Science
  • Toxicology


  • Activator protein 1
  • Antioxidant response element
  • Caspases
  • Dietary phytochemicals
  • Kelch-like ECH-associated protein (Keap1)
  • Nuclear factor kappa B
  • Nuclear factor related factor 2

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