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Green tea compound may be a powerful weapon against cancer

A compound found in green tea may boost levels of the naturally occurring anti-cancer protein p53. According to new research, the green tea compound epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) presents a new target for cancer drug discovery.

P53 proteins control cell division and cell death, and have the ability to repair DNA damage or destroy cancer cells. For this reason, p53 is considered to be a tumor suppressor that is also known as the “guardian of the genome.”

Meanwhile, the green tea compound EGCG serves as a powerful antioxidant that protects against cellular damage caused by free radicals. EGCG is believed to reduce inflammation, boost weight loss, and help prevent heart and brain disease. 

Study co-author Chunyu Wang is a professor of Biological Sciences at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. 

“Both p53 and EGCG molecules are extremely interesting. Mutations in p53 are found in over 50% of human cancer, while EGCG is the major antioxidant in green tea, a popular beverage worldwide,” said Professor Wang.

“Now we find that there is a previously unknown, direct interaction between the two, which points to a new path for developing anti-cancer drugs. Our work helps to explain how EGCG is able to boost p53’s anti-cancer activity, opening the door to developing drugs with EGCG-like compounds.”

Professor Wang is an expert in using nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to study specific mechanisms in Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. He describes p53 as “arguably the most important protein in human cancer.”

The protein is responsible for multiple anti-cancer functions, such as inhibiting cell growth to allow for DNA repair, activating DNA repair, and initiating programmed cell death when DNA damage cannot be repaired.

After being produced in the body, p53 is quickly degraded. This cycle of production and degradation keeps p53 at low levels. However, in the new study, the experts have made the breakthrough discovery that interaction with EGCG prevents p53 from degrading. 

“Both EGCG and MDM2 bind at the same place on p53, the N-terminal domain, so EGCG competes with MDM2,” explained Professor Wang. “When EGCG binds with p53, the protein is not being degraded through MDM2, so the level of p53 will increase with the direct interaction with EGCG, and that means there is more p53 for anti-cancer function. This is a very important interaction.”

The fact that EGCG directly disrupts the binding of p53 to its regulator MDM2 means that the green tea compound may serve as the basis for future treatments to promote the death of cancerous cells and prevent the spread of cancer.

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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