Isothiocyanate sulforaphane, a substance found in broccoli, could hold the key for addressing prostate cancer among men. Researchers suggest that sulforaphane interacts with cells lacking a gene called PTEN to reduce the chances of prostate cancer developing.

A team of researchers from the Institute of Food Research, an institute of BBSRC and Norwich Research Park, UK, are preparing to carry out a series of experiments in human prostate tissue and on mice to investigate the interactions between expression of the PTEN gene and the anti-cancer activity of sulforaphane.

"PTEN is a tumour suppressor gene, the deletion or inactivation of which can initiate prostate carcinogenesis, and enhance the probability of cancer progression. We’ve shown here that sulforaphane has different effects depending on whether the PTEN gene is present,” says Richard Mithen from the Institute of Food Research.

In cells where they found PTEN, dietary intervention with sulforaphane has no impact on the development of cancer. However, in cells that did not express the gene, sulforaphane was seen to cause them to become less competitive, researchers found.

This provides an explanation on how consuming broccoli can reduce the risk of prostate cancer occurrence and progression, the researchers said in a study that appeared in BioMed Central’s open access journal Molecular Cancer.

"This also suggests potential therapeutic applications of sulforaphane and related compounds,” Mithen added.

Sulforaphane suppresses transcriptional changes induced by PTEN deletion and induces additional changes in gene expression associated with cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in PTEN null tissue, but has no effect on transcription in wild type tissue.

Comparative analyses of changes in gene expression in mouse and human prostate tissue indicate that similar changes can be induced in humans with a broccoli-rich diet, researchers noted.