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Nat Prod Rep. 2005 Jun;22(3):351-68. Epub 2005 May 10.

Bioactive S-alk(en)yl cysteine sulfoxide metabolites in the genus Allium: the chemistry of potential therapeutic agents.

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Department of Biochemistry, National University of Singapore, 8 Medical Drive, Singapore, 117597.


S-Alk(en)yl cysteine sulfoxides are odourless, non-protein sulfur amino acids typically found in members of the family Alliaceae and are the precursors to the lachrymatory and flavour compounds found in the agronomically important genus Allium. Traditionally, Allium species, particularly the onion (Allium cepa) and garlic (A. sativum), have been used for centuries in European, Asian and American folk medicines for the treatment of numerous human pathologies, however it is only recently that any significant progress has been made in determining their mechanisms of action. Indeed, our understanding of the role of Allium species in human health undoubtedly comes from the combination of several academic disciplines including botany, biochemistry and nutrition. During tissue damage, S-alk(en)yl cysteine sulfoxides are converted to their respective thiosulfinates or propanethial-S-oxide by the action of the enzyme alliinase (EC Depending on the Allium species, and under differing conditions, thiosulfinates can decompose to form additional sulfur constituents including diallyl, methyl allyl, and diethyl mono-, di-, tri-, tetra-, penta-, and hexasulfides, the vinyldithiins and (E)- and (Z)-ajoene. Recent reports have shown onion and garlic extracts, along with several principal sulfur constituents, can induce phase II detoxification enzymes like glutathione-S-transferases (EC and quinone reductase (QR) NAD(P)H: (quinine acceptor) oxidoreductase (EC in mammalian tissues, as well as also influencing cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in numerous in vitro cancer cell models. Moreover, studies are also beginning to highlight a role of Allium-derived sulfur compounds in cardiovascular protection. In this review, we discuss the chemical diversity of S-alk(en)yl cysteine sulfoxide metabolites in the context of their biochemical and pharmacological mechanisms.

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