The work -- done using advanced molecular tools with grape-cell cultures and the target enzyme for new anti-cancer strategies -- helps to identify which flavonoids in grapes and red wine are most responsible for anti-cancer qualities, said Mary Ann Lila, a professor in the department of natural resources and environmental sciences.
Flavonoids are a group of organic compounds that include numerous water-soluble plant pigments responsible for colors. They are more abundant in red than in white grapes.
The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry has posted the Illinois study online ahead of regular publication. The study details a dozen newly discovered constituents in grape-cell culture extracts and how some of them work synergistically against an enzyme known as human DNA topoisomerase II. The enzyme is necessary for the spread of cancer and commonly used in cancer research to screen plant chemicals.
"The findings add to the argument for eating whole foods," said Elvira Gonzalez de Mejia, a professor in the department of food science and human nutrition. "It's very clear that the synergy is critical. When a cell becomes malignant that enzyme is expressed 300 times more than in a normal cell. If we can find a compound or mixture of compounds that can reduce the activity of that enzyme, the cancerous cells will die."
The synergistic activity involves specific phytochemicals from the proanthocyanidin and anthocyanin classes of the varied flavonoid family. They worked more effectively against the enzyme than do the previously identified flavonoids quercetin and resveratrol. Alone, the individual compenents had less effect on the enzyme.