Prooxidant property of green tea polyphenols epicatechin and epigallocatechin-3-gallate: implications for anticancer properties

Toxicol In Vitro. 2004 Oct;18(5):555-61. doi: 10.1016/j.tiv.2003.12.012.


It is believed that anticancer and apoptosis inducing properties of green tea are mediated by it's polyphenolic constituents particularly catechins. A number of reports have shown that green tea polyphenol (-)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) is among the most effective chemopreventive and apoptosis-inducing agents present in the beverage. Plant polyphenols are naturally occurring antioxidants but they also exhibit prooxidant properties. Over the last several years we have shown that various classes of plant polyphenols including flavonoids, curcuminoids and tannins are capable of catalyzing oxidative DNA cleavage particularly in the presence of transition metal ions such as copper and iron. With a view to understand the chemical basis of various pharmacological properties of green tea, in this paper we have compared the prooxidant properties of green tea polyphenols--EGCG and EC ((-)-epicatechin). The rate of oxidative DNA degradation as well as hydroxyl radical and superoxide anion formation was found to be greater in the case of EGCG as compared with EC. It was also shown that copper mediated oxidation of EC and EGCG possibly leads to the formation of polymerized polyphenols. Further, it was indicated that copper oxidized catechins were more efficient prooxidants as compared with their unoxidized forms. These results correlate with the observation by others that EGCG is the most effective apoptosis inducing polyphenol present in green tea. They are also in support of our hypothesis that prooxidant action of plant polyphenols may be an important mechanism of their anticancer properties. A model for binding of Cu(II) to EC has been presented where the formation of quinone and a quinone methide has been proposed.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / metabolism
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antioxidants / metabolism
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology*
  • Catechin / analogs & derivatives*
  • Catechin / metabolism
  • Catechin / pharmacology*
  • Cattle
  • Chemoprevention
  • Copper / metabolism
  • Copper / pharmacology
  • DNA / drug effects
  • DNA / metabolism
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology*
  • Plant Leaves / chemistry
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / analysis
  • Tea*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Antioxidants
  • Plant Extracts
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Tea
  • Copper
  • Catechin
  • DNA
  • epigallocatechin gallate