Modulation of xenobiotic metabolising enzymes by anticarcinogens -- focus on glutathione S-transferases and their role as targets of dietary chemoprevention in colorectal carcinogenesis

Mutat Res. 2005 Dec 11;591(1-2):74-92. doi: 10.1016/j.mrfmmm.2005.04.020. Epub 2005 Aug 3.


There is evidence that consumption of certain dietary ingredients may favourably modulate biotransformation of carcinogens. Associated with this is the hypothesis that the risk for developing colorectal cancer could be reduced, since its incidence is related to diet. Two main groups of biotransformation enzymes metabolize carcinogens, namely Phase I enzymes, which convert hydrophobic compounds to more water-soluble moieties, and Phase II enzymes (e.g. glutathione S-transferases [GST]), which primarily catalyze conjugation reactions. The conjugation of electrophilic Phase I intermediates with glutathione, for instance, frequently results in detoxification. Several possible colon carcinogens may serve as substrates for GST isoenzymes that can have marked substrate specificity. The conjugated products could be less toxic/genotoxic if GSTs are induced, thereby reducing exposure. Thus, numerous studies have shown that the induction of GSTs by antioxidants enables experimental animals to tolerate exposure to carcinogens. One important mechanism of GST induction involves an antioxidant-responsive response element (ARE) and the transcription factor nuclear factor E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2), which is bound to the Kelch-like ECH associated protein 1 (Keap1) in the cytoplasm. Antioxidants may disrupt the Keap-Nrf2 complex, allowing Nrf2 to translocate to the nucleus and mediate expression of Phase II genes via interaction with the ARE. GSTs are also induced by butyrate, a product of gut flora-derived fermentation of plant foods, which may act via different mechanisms, e.g. by increasing histone acetylation. GSTs are expressed with high inter-individual variability in human colonocytes, which points to large differences in cellular susceptibility to xenobiotics. Enhancing expression of GSTs in human colon tissue could therefore contribute to reducing cancer risks. However, it has not been demonstrated in humans that this mechanism is associated with cancer prevention. In the future, it will be useful to determine GSTs during dietary intervention studies to enhance our understanding of this protective mechanism.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / chemistry
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / metabolism*
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Brassica / chemistry
  • Chemoprevention
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / diet therapy
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / enzymology*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / genetics
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Diet*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Enzymologic
  • Glutathione Transferase / genetics
  • Glutathione Transferase / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Isoenzymes / genetics
  • Isoenzymes / metabolism
  • Molecular Structure
  • Plants / chemistry
  • Risk Factors
  • Xenobiotics / metabolism*


  • Anticarcinogenic Agents
  • Isoenzymes
  • Xenobiotics
  • Glutathione Transferase