Epigenetic activities of flavonoids in the prevention and treatment of cancer

Clin Epigenetics. 2015 Jul 10;7(1):64. doi: 10.1186/s13148-015-0095-z. eCollection 2015.


Aberrant epigenetic modifications are described in an increasing number of pathological conditions, including neurodegenerative diseases, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes mellitus type 2, obesity and cancer. The general reversibility of epigenetic changes makes them an attractive and promising target e.g. in the treatment of cancer. Thus, a growing number of epigenetically active compounds are currently tested in clinical trials for their therapeutic potential. Interestingly, many phytochemicals present in plant foods, particularly flavonoids, are suggested to be able to alter epigenetic cellular mechanisms. Flavonoids are natural phenol compounds that form a large group of secondary plant metabolites with interesting biological activities. They can be categorized into six major subclasses, which display diverse properties affecting the two best characterized epigenetic mechanisms: modulation of the DNA methylation status and histone acetylation. High dietary flavonoid intake has strongly been suggested to reduce the risk of numerous cancer entities in a large body of epidemiological studies. Established health-promoting effects of diets rich in fruit and vegetables are faced by efforts to use purified flavonoids as supplements or pharmaceuticals, whereupon data on the latter applications remain controversial. The purpose of this review is to give an overview of current research on flavonoids to further elucidate their potential in cancer prevention and therapy, thereby focusing on their distinct epigenetic activities.

Keywords: Cancer; DNMT; Epigenetics; Flavonoids; HDAC; Nutrition; Phytochemicals.