Biological properties of garlic and garlic-derived organosulfur compounds

Environ Mol Mutagen. 2009 Apr;50(3):247-65. doi: 10.1002/em.20474.


Medicinal properties of garlic (Allium sativum) have been widely known and used since ancient times till the present. Garlic enhances immune functions and has antibacterial, antifungal and antivirus activities. It is known to prevent platelet aggregation, and to have hypotensive and cholesterol- and triglyceride-lowering properties, although the latter features have been questioned. This review is focused on anticancer efficacy of Allium sativum, and attempts to explain the mechanisms of this action. Medicinal properties of garlic rely upon organosulfur compounds mostly derived from alliin. Organosulfur compounds originating from garlic inhibit carcinogen activation, boost phase 2 detoxifying processes, cause cell cycle arrest mostly in G2/M phase, stimulate the mitochondrial apoptotic pathway, increase acetylation of histones. Garlic-derived sulfur compounds influence also gap-junctional intercellular communication and participate in the development of multidrug resistance. This review presents also other little known aspects of molecular action of garlic-derived compounds, like modulation of cellular redox state, involvement in signal transduction and post-translational modification of proteins by sulfane sulfur or by formation of mixed disulfides (S-thiolation reactions).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetylation
  • Animals
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / chemistry
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / isolation & purification
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / metabolism
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins / metabolism
  • Biotransformation
  • Cell Cycle / drug effects
  • Garlic / chemistry*
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Molecular Structure
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Solubility
  • Sulfur Compounds / chemistry
  • Sulfur Compounds / isolation & purification
  • Sulfur Compounds / metabolism
  • Sulfur Compounds / pharmacology*
  • Xenobiotics / pharmacokinetics


  • Anticarcinogenic Agents
  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins
  • Histones
  • Sulfur Compounds
  • Xenobiotics