Frugal chemoprevention: targeting Nrf2 with foods rich in sulforaphane

Semin Oncol. 2016 Feb;43(1):146-153. doi: 10.1053/j.seminoncol.2015.09.013. Epub 2015 Sep 8.


With the properties of efficacy, safety, tolerability, practicability and low cost, foods containing bioactive phytochemicals are gaining significant attention as elements of chemoprevention strategies against cancer. Sulforaphane [1-isothiocyanato-4-(methylsulfinyl)butane], a naturally occurring isothiocyanate produced by cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, is found to be a highly promising chemoprevention agent against not only a variety of cancers such as breast, prostate, colon, skin, lung, stomach or bladder, but also cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and diabetes. For reasons of experimental exigency, preclinical studies have focused principally on sulforaphane itself, while clinical studies have relied on broccoli sprout preparations rich in either sulforaphane or its biogenic precursor, glucoraphanin. Substantive subsequent evaluation of sulforaphane pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics has been undertaken using either pure compound or food matrices. Sulforaphane affects multiple targets in cells. One key molecular mechanism of action for sulforaphane entails activation of the Nrf2-Keap1 signaling pathway although other actions contribute to the broad spectrum of efficacy in different animal models. This review summarizes the current status of pre-clinical chemoprevention studies with sulforaphane and highlights the progress and challenges for the application of foods rich in sulforaphane and/or glucoraphanin in the arena of clinical chemoprevention.

Keywords: Cancer; Chemoprevention; Nrf2; Sulforaphane.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / metabolism
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Brassica
  • Chemoprevention
  • Glucosinolates / metabolism
  • Glucosinolates / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Imidoesters / metabolism
  • Imidoesters / pharmacology
  • Isothiocyanates / metabolism
  • Isothiocyanates / pharmacokinetics
  • Isothiocyanates / pharmacology*
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Oximes
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Sulfoxides
  • Vegetables*


  • Anticarcinogenic Agents
  • Glucosinolates
  • Imidoesters
  • Isothiocyanates
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2
  • Oximes
  • Sulfoxides
  • sulforaphane
  • glucoraphanin