Chemoprotection by organosulfur inducers of phase 2 enzymes: Dithiolethiones and dithiins

T. W. Kensler, T. J. Curphey, Y. Maxiutenko, B. D. Roebuck

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

111 Scopus citations


One of the major mechanisms of protection against carcinogenesis, mutagenesis, and other forms of toxicity mediated by carcinogens is the induction of enzymes involved in their metabolism, particularly phase 2 enzymes such as glutathione S-transferases, UDP-glucuronosyl transferases, and quinone reductases. Animal studies indicate that induction of phase 2 enzymes is a sufficient condition for obtaining chemoprevention and can be achieved by administering any of a diverse array of naturally-occurring and synthetic chemopreventive agents. Alliaceous and cruciferous plants are rich in organosulfur compounds with inducer activity. Indeed, monitoring of enzyme induction has led to the recognition or isolation of novel, potent chemopreventive agents such as 1,2-dithiole-3-thiones, dithiins and the isothiocyanate sulforaphane. For example, oltipraz, a substituted 1,2-dithiole-3-thione originally developed as an antischistosomal agent, possesses chemopreventive activity against different classes of carcinogens targeting multiple organs. Mechanistic studies in rodent models for chemoprevention of aflatoxin B1 (AFB1)-induced hepatocarcinogenesis by oltipraz indicates that increased expression of phase 2 genes is of central importance, although inhibition of phase 1 activation of aflatoxin B1 can also contribute to protection. Exposure of rodents to 1,2-dithiole-3-thiones triggers nuclear accumulation of the transcription factor Nrf2 and its enhanced binding to the Antioxidant Response Element, leading to transcriptional activation of a score of genes involved in carcinogen detoxification and attenuation of oxidative stress. Nrf2-deficient mice fail to induce many of these genes in response to oltipraz and the impact of this genotype on the chemopreventive efficacy of dithiolethiones is currently under investigation. To test the hypothesis that enzyme induction is a useful strategy for chemoprevention in humans, three key elements are necessary: a candidate agent, an at-risk population and modulatable intermediate endpoints. Towards this end, a placebo-controlled, double blind clinical trial of oltipraz was conducted in residents of Qidong, P.R. China who are exposed to dietary aflatoxins and who are at high risk for the development of liver cancer. Oltipraz significantly enhanced excretion of a phase 2 product, aflatoxin-mercapturic acid, a derivative of the aflatoxin-glutathione conjugate, in the urine of study participants administered 125 mg oltipraz by mouth daily. Administration of 500 mg oltipraz once a week led to a significant reduction in the excretion of the primary oxidative metabolite of AFB1, aflatoxin M1, when measured shortly after drug administration. While this study highlighted the general feasibility of inducing phase 2 enzymes in humans, a longer term intervention is addressing whether protective alterations in aflatoxin metabolism can be sustained for extended periods of time in this high-risk population. Food-based approaches to chemoprotection, targeted both to the general population and high-risk individuals, offer many practical advantages compared to the use of pharmaceutical agents. Thus, identification and utilization of naturally-occurring organosulfur chemoprotectors including dithiins should be a high priority.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-22
Number of pages20
JournalDrug Metabolism and Drug Interactions
Issue number1-4
StatePublished - 2000


  • 1,2-dithiole-3-thiones
  • Allium
  • Chemoprotection
  • Cuciferae
  • Dithiins
  • Oltipraz

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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