News of Note—How broccoli suppresses cancer; Ragweed's link to Alzheimer's protection

A compound in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables can suppress PTEN, a gene that's frequently mutated and has been implicated in cancer. (Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-2.0)

Natural compound in broccoli suppresses cancer-causing gene

Researchers at Harvard's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center discovered that a small molecule called indole-3-carbinol (I3C), which is found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, can suppress PTEN, a gene that’s frequently mutated and can promote cancer. The team performed a series of experiments in human cells and mice prone to cancer, which revealed that another cancer-related gene called WWP1 produces an enzyme that prevents PTEN from suppressing the disease. They analyzed that enzyme, and in so doing discovered that I3C could inactivate WWP1, they reported in the journal Science. When they administered I3C to the mice, the ability of PTEN to suppress cancer was restored. But you’d have to eat several pounds of broccoli a day to get the same effects, so the researchers are working on developing drugs that could inhibit WPP1 in a more potent way. (Release)

Could ragweed protect against Alzheimer's?

Ragweed may be hated by allergy sufferers, but scientists in Korea say they may have found a reason to love the annoying weed. They found 14 chemicals in ragweed that they say can inhibit the accumulation of amyloid beta in the brain—a major culprit in the formation of Alzheimer’s disease. They found the chemicals by screening 300 natural plant extracts for anti-amyloid beta activity. Half of the chemicals had been linked to neuroprotection before, but the other half were terpenoids that were previously unknown, they reported in the Journal of Natural Products. When they treated neurons with two of the most potent compounds, about 20% more cells survived than did a sample of nerve cells that were not treated. (Release)

A new protein link to Parkinson's could boost drug development

In some people with an inherited form of Parkinson’s disease, the activity of a protein called parkin is disrupted, resulting in the inability of nerve cells to discard damaged mitochondria. Researchers at the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Medical Sciences have discovered that parkin depends on another protein, MITOL, to find the damaged mitochondria, they reported in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. MITOL had not previously been linked to Parkinson’s, so the discovery could help inspire new therapies for the disease that are designed to improve the ability of parkin to find and discard damaged mitochondria, the researchers believe. (Release)

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