UV-vis Spectroscopy Reveals How Caffeine Protects Against Carcinogens

Caffeine may protect people from cancer-causing carcinogens by forming stacking complexes with polycyclic aromatic chemicals.

Researchers from the University of Gdansk (Gdansk, Poland) have used UV–vis spectrometry to demonstrate that methylxanthine alkaloids, such as caffeine, may shield people from cancer-causing carcinogens by forming pi-pi stacking complexes with polycyclic aromatic chemicals.

In 2003, the team, led by Jacek Piosik of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Gdansk, first attempted to determine the role of caffeine in protecting against cancer; a phenomenon that was observed in earlier studies but was never fully understood. They concluded that caffeine, as well as pentoxifylline (PTX), quelled the mutagenic activity of polycyclic aromatic agents through stacking complexes.

Recently, Piosik, alongside two colleagues from the University, expanded this study beyond caffeine and pentoxifylline to encompass all methylxanthine alkaloids (MTX), and determined that MTX forms stacking complexes with heterocyclic aromatic amines (HCAs). HCAs most often occur when meat is cooked at a high temperature. Using the Ames test with Salmonella typhimurium TA98 strain and the recently developed mutagenicity assay based on bioluminescence of Vibrio harveyi A16 strain, the team demonstrated that the presence of MTX significantly reduced the mutagenic activity of HCAs.

The first study was published in the September 29, 2003, issue of the journal Mutation Research. The second study appeared in the February 2011 issue of Bioorganic Chemistry.