Recent research by Agricultural Research Service scientists and cooperators has fortified the standing of pterostilbene -- a berry and grape compound cited for its health benefits -- as a cancer inhibitor.

During tests employing cell fragments from mice livers, ARS chemist Agnes Rimando and colleagues in Poland found that the compound strongly suppresses a type of an enzyme that activates cancer-causing processes.

Rimando, who works at the ARS Natural Products Utilization Research Laboratory in Oxford, Miss., and her collaborators targeted an enzyme called cytochrome P450, which sets off a variety of compounds -- known as "procarcinogens" -- that can turn substances such as cigarette smoke and pesticides into cancer-causing agents. Cytochromes are a factor in people's varying responses to drugs and toxins entering their bodies.

Rimando has led numerous animal studies that focused on pterostilbene (pronounced "tare-o-STILL-bean") and its potential benefits to human health. This includes work showing that pterostilbene can help lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease, and that the compound is present in a genus of shrubs that includes many types of berries, including blueberries.

She also led studies that found that the compound is a powerful antioxidant that shows cancer-fighting properties similar to those of resveratrol. Indeed, pterostilbene is a derivative of resveratrol, a compound found in large quantities in the skins of red grapes that's known for its cardiovascular and cancer-fighting benefits.

In the most recent study, Rimando and scientists led by Renata Mikstacka at Poland's University of Medical Science in Pozna