Broccoli compound induces cell death in yeast, offers research path for cancer treatment

DIM damages nuclear membrane in fission yeast (Courtesy of Masaru Ueno, Hiroshima University)

Broccoli may contain advantages beyond nutrition. A molecule found in broccoli, cabbage, and more digests down into DIM, a compound with brighter benefits than the name implies, such as inducing cell death in breast, prostate, and colon cancer.

In a report in PLOS One, Hiroshima University researchers found that DIM, or 3,3’-Diindolylmethane, also triggers controlled whole-cell death and recycling of cellular components in fission yeast. Whether the DIM-induced damage mechanism is conserved in humans remains to be seen, but HU Associate Professor Masaru Ueno explained that unicellular fission yeast allows for easier examination of the molecular machinery that mimics behavior in more complex organisms.

Part of the cell’s process of repair is called autophagy, or “self-eating.” If repair is no longer an option, cells will rupture in a programmed death process called apoptosis. Many cytotoxic anticancer drugs work by inducing apoptosis, so being able to control the process can help preserve and improve human health.

It may seem counter-intuitive that an apoptosis-inducing compound can increase the lifespan of an organism, but DIM appears to prompt such behavior only in exponentially dividing cells — like cancer.

The understanding of apoptosis and autophagy mechanism by DIM in fission yeast may be helpful for human cancer and longevity research. Find the original article and Hiroshima University research news here: