Magazine article Science News

Carotenoids: Colorful Cancer Protection

Magazine article Science News

Carotenoids: Colorful Cancer Protection

Article excerpt

Carotenoids: Colorful cancer protection

Carotenoids are a class of more than 500 yellow-to-red-hued pigments, chemically related to vitamin A. Though found predominantly in green and yellow vegetables, they also color tomatoes, carrots, egg yolks, algae and even shark oil. In recent years, a few carotenoids -- most notably beta-carotene and canthaxanthin -- have gained renown for their apparent role in limiting the development of certain cancers. Now, Japanese scientists working with cultured human cancer cells report data suggesting that at least some of these nontoxic pigments fight cancers by effectively putting malignant cells to sleep and suppressing the expression of a gene that might otherwise foster tumor growth.

Cancer involves rapid and unregulated proliferation of cells. Researchers at the Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine observed a dramatic suppression in the proliferation of human neuroblastoma cells after adding alpha-or beta-carotene. Alpha-carotene shut down cell growth at concentrations as low as 2 to 5 micromoles ([mu]M) and proved toxic at [mu]M. Beta-carotene showed similar effects at concentrations 10 times greater.

To find out what was happening, the researchers homed in on the activity of the gene N-myc, which codes for cell-growth-enhancing proteins when switched on. This so-called proto-on-cogene is present, though inactive, in healthy mature cells, but it can contribute to cancer growth if damaged or if turned on by faulty regulatory cues. …

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