DUB inhibitors _or_ why you should you eat your broccoli

Eat your broccoli!

We’re constantly bombarded by advice on which foods to eat or not eat, but skeptics among us often find compelling evidence for a convincing mechanism of how the foods promote health hard to come by – food has many components, and there are many different cells and metabolic pathways in those cells with which those components interact.

phenethyl isothiocyanate (a component of cruciferous vegetables)

phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC, a component of cruciferous vegetables)

Consider broccoli. It is well established that cruciferous vegetables have wide-ranging health benefits, apparently reducing cancer risks and lowering inflammation.  One set of phytochemicals responsible for the potent anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties are called isothiocyanates or ‘ITCs’.  It is now four decades since the discovery of ITCs, yet a molecular understanding of what ITCs do in a cell has proven elusive.

In a paper published this month in Cancer Research, Brandeis research scientist Ann Lawson, working in Liz Hedstrom’s laboratory, together with graduate students Marcus Long (Biochem) and Rory Coffey (Mol Cell Biol) and scientists from UbiQ and from Boston College, has shown that ITCs block the action of deubiquitinating enzymes (DUBs),  including the tumorigenesis-associated enzymes USP9x and UCH37, at physiologically relevant concentrations and time scales.

DUB inhibition provides a simple, unifying explanation that can account for many of the diverse health effects of ITCs. Understanding of how ITCs work at the molecular level may, one day, lead to new drug therapies for illnesses such as cancer, chronic inflammation, and neurodegenerative diseases.

Are you ready for your broccoli now? Me, I think I’ll have some kale sprouts.

Lawson AP, Long MJ, Coffey RT, Qian Y, Weerapana E, El Oualid F, Hedstrom L. Naturally occurring isothiocyanates exert anticancer effects by inhibiting deubiquitinating enzymes. Cancer Res. 2015

Why partiallly hydrogenated vegetable oil had to go

notransfatKC Hayes, Professor Emeritus of Biology, recently talked to Brandeis NOW about new guidelines on partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (trans fats) and statin drugs.

Brandeis NOW: You’ve been a long-time advocate for banning hydrogenated oils. How do you feel now that it is finally happening?

Hayes: It’s about time. We’ve known about the negative effects of transfat since the early 1990s — some would argue even sooner — so it’s really 20 years late.


Hayes continues to do research with his lab at Brandeis, seeking to understand the role of diet and nutritional supplements in diseases such as atherosclerosis and diabetes, often using the diabetes-prone nile rat as a model. A couple of their recent publications:

Have a Jolly Time with Smart Balance

According to a story in the Sioux City Journal , the makers of Jolly Time Pop Corn are releasing new varieties made with Smart Balance, a butter substitute using technology patented at Brandeis. The blend of oils, based on research from KC Hayes’s lab in Biology, is “heart-healthy” by virtue of containing a blend of polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and saturated fats designed to improve the HDL/LDL cholesterol ratio.

KC Hayes, obesity, and the Asian Food Network

BrandeisNOW has a new story about Professor KC Hayes, the Asian Food Network, the worldwide trend to greater obesity, and what should and shouldn’t be in your diet.

Fat Nile Rats

The Summer 2011 issue (“food issue”) of Brandeis Magazine is out. Several Brandeis scientists feature in the magazine. In “Fat Rats Shed Light on Diabetes”, Penny Schwartz discusses Professor of Biology K.C. Hayes and his research into diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome using a new animal model (the Nile rat). Nutritional advice, recipes and more can be found in the online version.

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