Natural chemical found in broccoli helps combat skin blistering disease

August 20, 2007

Johns Hopkins scientists have found yet another reason why you should listen to your mother when she tells you to eat your vegetables. Sulforaphane, a chemical present at high levels in a precursor form in broccoli and related veggies (cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, etc.), helps prevent the severe blistering and skin breakage brought on by the rare and potentially fatal genetic disease epidermolysis bullosa simplex (EBS).

The researchers treated newborn mice with a severe form of EBS--so bad they all died within three days--with a topical solution containing sulforaphane and found marked improvement; after four days more than 85 percent of the treated mice were alive and blister-free. These findings appear online this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The basis of EBS, notes study author Pierre Coulombe, Ph.D., professor of biological chemistry, lies in two specific genes that make proteins known as keratins. Normally, the keratins join together and form highly resilient fibers in the lower portion of skin, helping make it durable. If either keratin is defective, they don't mesh and the lower skin tissue becomes unusually fragile and gets damaged from the mildest mechanical stress -- leading to blistering pain, a higher risk of infection, and in the most severe cases, death.

"Humans have around 54 distinct keratins, many of which are similar in structure and function," says Coulombe. "We figured we might be able to exploit this similarity and dial up a replacement by triggering the activation of a suitable signaling pathway in skin." He predicted that sulforaphane might stimulate the formation of a surrogate skin-strengthening keratin to stand in for the defective one.

The desire to learn more about sulforaphane led Coulombe and his co-workers to Paul Talalay, M.D., professor of pharmacology who had previously identified sulforaphane as a cancer-preventive agent. "It turns out that treatment with low doses of sulforaphane triggers the expression of selected keratin genes in skin," says Coulombe. "So we began what evolved into a highly rewarding collaboration and found it does indeed work in a mouse model for EBS."

"This is the first suggestion that we may be able to treat this terrible disease," adds Talalay, a co-author of this study. "And we didn't need to invent a new drug; sulforaphane is naturally found in our diet."

The team will next test whether sulforaphane can stimulate the proper keratin protein in the appropriate subset of human skin cells -- a vital matter for any future medical hopes. Beyond that are issues of how effective a topical application would be on human skin, which is considerably thicker than mouse skin, as well as examining the long term effects of sulforaphane treatment.

"If we can clear these important hurdles, then sulforaphane can potentially be a tremendous therapeutic, with the added benefit of having anticancer properties," Coulombe says. "And when you consider that the only current option for EBS is wrapping gauze around trauma-prone areas to minimize breakage, and otherwise avoiding infection and making sure blisters heal properly, then even a mild success would be a significant benefit for these patients."
-end-
The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the March of Dimes Birth Defect Research Foundation, the American Institute for Cancer Research, and the Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Foundation.

Authors on the paper are Michelle L. Kerns, Daryle DePianto, Albena T. Dinkova-Kostova, Talalay and Coulombe, all of Hopkins.

On the Web:
http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/CoulombeLabPage/index.htm
http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/pharmacology/research/talalay.html
http://www.pnas.org/

Johns Hopkins Medicine

Related Broccoli Articles from Brightsurf:

Broccoli and Brussels sprouts a cut above for blood vessel health
New research from Edith Cowan University has shown some of our least favourite vegetables could be the most beneficial when it comes to preventing advanced blood vessel disease.

'Locally grown' broccoli looks, tastes better to consumers
In tests, consumers in upstate New York were willing to pay more for broccoli grown in New York when they knew where it came from, Cornell University researchers found.

Offering children a variety of vegetables increases acceptance
Although food preferences are largely learned, dislike is the main reason parents stop offering or serving their children foods like vegetables.

With bitter foods, what you eat determines what you like to eat
Introducing plant-based foods to a diet is a common-sense approach to healthy eating, but many people don't like the taste of vegetables, bitter greens, in particular.

Garlic on broccoli: A smelly approach to repel a major pest
New University of Vermont study offers a novel framework to test strategies for managing invasive pests.

Natural compound found in broccoli reawakens the function of potent tumor suppressor
Long associated with decreased risk of cancer, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables -- the family of plants that also includes cauliflower, cabbage, collard greens, Brussels sprouts and kale -- contain a molecule that inactivates a gene known to play a role in a variety of common human cancers.

Broccoli sprout compound may restore brain chemistry imbalance linked to schizophrenia
In a series of recently published studies using animals and people, Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers say they have further characterized a set of chemical imbalances in the brains of people with schizophrenia related to the chemical glutamate.

Are buyers willing to forgo quality in locally grown produce?
Phillip Coles, professor of practice in management at Lehigh University, is among researchers who found that East Coast buyers aren't willing to forgo quality when it comes to local broccoli varieties.

With these special bacteria, a broccoli a day can keep the cancer doctor away
NUS Medicine researchers have engineered bacteria that specifically targets colorectal cancer cells and converts a substance in some vegetables into an anticancer agent.

Like it or not: Broccoli may be good for the gut
For the broccoli haters of the world, researchers may have more bad news: the vegetable may also help promote a healthy gut.

Read More: Broccoli News and Broccoli Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.