The glutathione biotransformation system and colorectal cancer risk in humans

Scand J Gastroenterol Suppl. 2001;(234):68-76. doi: 10.1080/003655201753265479.


Evidence for a protective role of the glutathione biotransformation system in carcinogenesis is growing. However, most data on this system in relation to colorectal cancer originate from animal studies. Here we review the human data. In humans, a significant association was found between glutathione S-transferase (GST) activity in the mucosa along the gastrointestinal tract and the corresponding tumour incidence. Low activity was correlated with high tumour incidence and vice versa. Also, in normal colonic mucosa, GST activity is lower in patients at risk of colon cancer than in healthy controls and therefore interventions which increase the glutathione detoxification capacity may reduce cancer incidence. Consumption of vegetables and fruit is associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer. Human intervention studies showed that (components from) vegetables induced colonic glutathione detoxification capacity. Such an effect could contribute to a lower colon cancer risk, but further data are needed. The human GSTs consist of four main classes--alpha (A), mu (M), pi (P) and theta (T)--each of which is divided into one or more isoforms. Functional polymorphisms are known for the GST genes M1, P1 and T1 and they all lead to less active enzymes compared to the wild-type gene products. However, studies that compared these GST polymorphisms in relation to colon cancer risk were not conclusive with respect to an increased or decreased risk of a particular genotype. Diet or medication can also influence the expression levels of specific isoenzymes and the effect of such interventions on cancer risk deserves more attention.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biotransformation
  • Colon / metabolism
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Diet
  • Glutathione / metabolism*
  • Glutathione Transferase / genetics
  • Glutathione Transferase / metabolism*
  • Glutathione Transferase / physiology
  • Humans
  • Phenotype
  • Risk Factors


  • Glutathione Transferase
  • Glutathione