The principal urinary metabolites of dietary isothiocyanates, N-acetylcysteine conjugates, elicit the same anti-proliferative response as their parent compounds in human bladder cancer cells

Anticancer Drugs. 2006 Mar;17(3):297-305. doi: 10.1097/00001813-200603000-00008.


Isothiocyanates (ITCs) are a class of well-known cancerpreventive phytochemicals, but are primarily disposed of and concentrated in the urine as N-acetylcysteine conjugates (NAC-ITCs) in vivo. Because human urinary bladder cancers occur almost exclusively in the bladder epithelium, which is directly exposed to the urine stored in the bladder, we undertook to examine the anti-cancer activity of NAC-ITCs in cultured human bladder cancer cells. In this paper, we report that the NAC conjugates of four naturally occurring ITCs, including allyl ITC, benzyl ITC (BITC), phenethyl ITC and sulforaphane, potently inhibited the growth of cells derived from both low-grade superficial and high-grade invasive human bladder cancers and drug-resistant bladder cancer cells. Moreover, the growth-inhibitory potencies were similar between the conjugates and their parent compounds. Further study of NAC-BITC and BITC as model compounds showed that both compounds accumulated in cells predominantly as the glutathione conjugate of BITC, but the accumulation of the former was slower. Moreover, both compounds also demonstrated the same anti-proliferative mechanisms: causing the cleavage of the same set of caspases (caspase-3, -8 and -9) in apoptosis induction, arresting cells in the same phases (S and G2/M) and targeting the same cell cycle regulator (Cdc25C), although a longer treatment time or slightly higher doses were needed for NAC-BITC to achieve the same effect as BITC, presumably due to slower cellular uptake of NAC-BITC. These data show that the NAC-ITCs are biologically similar to their parent compounds and are highly effective against human bladder cancer cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcysteine / analogs & derivatives
  • Acetylcysteine / chemistry
  • Acetylcysteine / pharmacokinetics
  • Acetylcysteine / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Cell Cycle / drug effects
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Drug Screening Assays, Antitumor
  • Humans
  • Isothiocyanates / chemistry
  • Isothiocyanates / pharmacokinetics
  • Isothiocyanates / pharmacology*
  • Isothiocyanates / urine
  • Sulfoxides
  • Thiocyanates / pharmacology
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / pathology
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / urine


  • Isothiocyanates
  • Sulfoxides
  • Thiocyanates
  • 2,3,4-tri-O-acetylarabinopyranosyl isothiocyanate
  • phenethyl isothiocyanate
  • benzyl isothiocyanate
  • sulforaphane
  • Acetylcysteine