Diets containing high quantities of plant foods are linked with a decreased likelihood of incidence of cancer. Several common plant-based dietary components exert effects on DNA methylation levels, and can positively influence genome stability and the transcription of tumor suppressors and oncogenes. Indole-3-carbinol (I3C) is a substance present in vegetables of the Brassicaeae family, especially broccoli, white cabbage, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. The in vivo biological effects of I3C are ascribed to a series of oligomeric products (including 3,3'-diindolylmethane), developed under acidic conditions. I3C is one of the many natural products and bioactive compounds found in foods which have recently received much attention for its potential effects in cancer prevention and treatment. In vitro studies report that I3C suppresses the proliferation of different tumor cells, including those isolated from breast, prostate, endometrium, and colon cancers. I3C resulted to be a potent in vivo chemopreventive agent for certain hormone-dependent cancers, including breast and cervical cancer. However, the mechanisms underlying these effects are not well defined. In this review, we have analysed recent literature on the use of indole derivatives against various forms of cancer, and have identified the main signalling pathways involved in their anti-cancer effect as PI3K/Akt/mTOR and the aryl hydrocarbon receptor.
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