Doseff oversaw this work with co-lead author Erich Grotewold, professor of molecular genetics and director of Ohio State's Center for Applied Plant Sciences (CAPS). The two collaborate on studying the genomics of apigenin and other flavonoids, a family of plant compounds that are believed to prevent disease.
The research appears this week in the online early edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Though finding that apigenin can influence cancer cell behavior was an important outcome of the work, Grotewold and Doseff point to their new biomedical research technique as a transformative contribution to nutraceutical research.
They likened the technique to "fishing" for the human proteins in cells that interact with small molecules available in the diet.
"You can imagine all the potentially affected proteins as tiny fishes in a big bowl. We introduce this molecule to the bowl and effectively lure only the truly affected proteins based on structural characteristics that form an attraction," Doseff said. "We know this is a real partnership because we can see that the proteins and apigenin bind to each other."
Through additional experimentation, the team established that apigenin had relationships with proteins that have three specific functions. Among the most important was a protein called hnRNPA2.
This protein influences the activity of messenger RNA, or mRNA, which contains the instructions needed to produce a specific protein. The production of mRNA results from the splicing, or modification, of RNA that occurs as part of gene activation. The nature of the splice ultimately influences which protein instructions the mRNA contains.
Doseff noted that abnormal splicing is the culprit in an estimated 80 percent of all cancers. In cancer cells, two types of splicing
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