Le, V., Esposito, D., Grace, M.H., Ha, D., Pham, A., Bortolazzo, A., Bevens, Z., Kim, J., Okuda, R., Komarnytsky, S., Lila, M.A., White, J.B., 2014. Cytotoxic effects of ellagitannins isolated from walnuts in human cancer cells. Nutr Cancer. 66(8):1304-14.
Walnuts contain many bioactive components that may slow cancer growth. A previous report showed that a diet supplemented with walnuts decreased the tumor size formed by MDA-MB-231 human cancer cells injected into nude mice. However, the mechanism of action was never determined. We characterized the effects of a methanol extract prepared from walnuts on human MDA-MB-231, MCF7, and HeLa cells. The extract was cytotoxic to all cancer cells. We identified compounds from the methanol extract that induced this cytotoxicity. The predominant compounds were Tellimagrandin I and Tellimagrandin II, members of the ellagitannin family. We also show a walnut extract decreases the intracellular pH, depolarizes the mitochondrial membrane with release of cytochrome c and phosphatidylserine flipping. The antimitogenic effects of walnut extract were associated with a twofold reduction of mitochondria respiration. These results suggest impairment of mitochondrial function and apoptosis as relevant mechanism of anticancer effects of the walnut extract.