Biological targets of isothiocyanates

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2011 Sep;1810(9):888-94. doi: 10.1016/j.bbagen.2011.06.004. Epub 2011 Jun 17.


Background: Isothiocyanates are phytochemicals with a broad array of effects in biological systems. Bioactivity includes the stimulation of cellular antioxidant systems, induction of apoptosis and interference with cytokine production and activity. Epidemiological evidence and experimental studies indicate that naturally occurring isothiocyanates and synthetic derivatives have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.

Scope of review: This review focuses on the molecular targets of isothiocyanates, and how target modification translates into a biological response.

Major conclusions: Isothiocyanates may mediate their effects via direct protein modification or indirectly by disruption of redox homeostasis and increased thiol oxidation. Some target proteins have been identified, but in-depth searches with new techniques are needed to reveal novel targets. Site-directed mutagenesis and isothiocyanate structure-activity relationships will assist in determining the biological significance of specific modifications.

General significance: Target identification is important for rational drug design and exploiting the therapeutic potential of isothiocyanates. It also provides insight into the diverse pathways that these compounds regulate.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / pharmacology
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Carcinogens / metabolism
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Homeostasis / drug effects
  • Isothiocyanates / pharmacology*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Carcinogens
  • Cytokines
  • Isothiocyanates