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Genes, grapes and the “French paradox”
By Scott Holmer

Scientists have proposed an explanation for how a chemical present in grapes and in red wine may play a role in fighting cancer and heart disease. The explanation is consistent with the fact that the French experience lower rates of heart disease and certain cancers despite drinking relatively large amounts of wine—the so-called "French paradox."

Recent studies have shown that a protein, trans-Resveratol, or Res, appears to have anti-cancer properties. The current study attempts to explain the mechanism involved in these effects. Albert S. Baldwin and Minnie Holmes-McNary, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, propose that Res switches off a protein that helps keep cancer cells alive. The protein, NF-kappa B, is known to protect cells from a chemical attack, such as chemotherapy, by activating certain genes. Three years ago, Baldwin and other researchers linked NF-kappa B to the development of resistance to chemotherapy and radiation in cultured tumor cells. In this study, Res appeared to make cancer cells vulnerable to chemotherapy treatments by turning off NF-kappa B. "When Res was absent from the cell culture system, cancer cells continued to survive, but when Res was there under experimental conditions, we could successfully promote the death of cancer cells by turning off NF-kappa B," said Holmes-McNary in a statement to the press.

NF-kappa B also switches on a gene that is associated with inflammation and hardening of human arteries, according to the researchers. By inhibiting NF-kappa B, Res may play a role in slowing the progression of heart disease. The research, which appears in a recent issue of Cancer Research, is an example of how diet affects changes at the molecular level. The study provides a molecular rationale for the broad chemo-preventive properties of trans-Resveratrol and by extension, grapes and grape products, according to Holmes-McNary.

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Holmes-McNary, M. & Baldwin, A.S. Chemopreventive properties of trans-Resveratrol are associated with inhibition of activation of I kappa B kinase. Cancer Res 60, 3477-3483 (July 1, 2000).

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