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Nutr Cancer. 2001;41(1-2):1-16.

Molecular targets for nutrients involved with cancer prevention.

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Division of Cancer Prevention, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Rockville, MD 20852, USA.


Dietary nutrients can influence cancer risk by inhibiting or enhancing carcinogenesis through diverse mechanisms of action. The identification and elucidation of their sites of action have been a focus of nutrition and cancer research for more than four decades. Transforming nutrition and cancer research from a predominantly observational to a molecular approach offers exciting opportunities for truly identifying those who will and will not benefit from dietary intervention strategies. The emerging field of nutritional genomics, defined here as the study of any genetic or epigenetic interaction with a nutrient, will be key to this evolution. Unraveling which genetic upregulation or downregulation leads to subsequent phenotype changes will not be easy. There is evidence that genetic polymorphisms can influence the dynamics between nutrients and molecular targets and, thus, contribute to variation in response among individuals. Because many molecular targets will likely be identified, it may be necessary to credential nutrients, that is, to determine which specific nutrient-related genetic and epigenetic changes bring about phenotypic changes, to establish which interactions are the most important and under what circumstances. Vitamin D, calcium, folate, selenium, genistein, and resveratrol are highlighted, because they represent specific classes of nutrients and illustrate the need to credential various nutrients to understand their physiological significance in cancer prevention. As the science of nutrition unfolds, a clearer understanding will emerge about how nutrients can modulate cancer risk through molecular interactions and how foods might be changed by agronomic approaches and/or biotechnology. Undeniably, embracing new genomic technologies offers exciting opportunities for advances in the broad area of nutrition, especially those related to cancer prevention.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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