The micronutrient indole-3-carbinol: implications for disease and chemoprevention

Drug Metabol Drug Interact. 2000;17(1-4):159-88. doi: 10.1515/dmdi.2000.17.1-4.159.


This review provides a historical perspective for the development of indole-3-carbinol (I-3-C) as a chemopreventive or therapeutic agent. Early experiments in animal models clearly showed that feeding cruciferous vegetables reduced the incidence of chemical carcinogenesis. Excitement was generated by the finding that these vegetables contained a high content of indole-containing compounds, and I-3-C could by itself inhibit neoplasia. The mechanism of action was linked primarily to the ability of I-3-C and derived substances to induce mixed-function oxidases and phase II antioxidant enzymes by binding and activating the aryl hydrocarbon receptor. Most of the literature on chemoprotection by dietary indole compounds relates to this mechanism of action. Other mechanisms, however, are notable for this class of compounds, including their ability to act as radical and electrophile scavengers; the various ascorbate conjugates of I-3-C (ascorbigens) may be important in this regard. Exciting recent findings have demonstrated that I-3-C and its reaction products can affect cellular signaling pathways, regulate the cell cycle, and decrease tumor cell properties related to metastasis. It does not appear that I-3-C per se is the primary active compound in chemoprotection or chemoprevention. Rather, I-3-C and ascorbate provide the parent compounds for the formation of a myriad of nonenzymatic reaction products that have strong biological potency. We conclude with our thoughts regarding the current status and future directions for the use of I-3-C and related compounds.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biotransformation
  • Brassicaceae / chemistry*
  • Chemoprevention*
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP1A1 / metabolism
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP1A2 / metabolism
  • Estrogens / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Indoles / chemistry
  • Indoles / pharmacology*
  • Male
  • Ornithine Decarboxylase Inhibitors
  • Rats
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured / drug effects


  • Estrogens
  • Indoles
  • Ornithine Decarboxylase Inhibitors
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP1A1
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP1A2