Open Access Open Badges Research article

Exploring mechanisms of diet-colon cancer associations through candidate molecular interaction networks

David Westergaard1, Jun Li1, Kasper Jensen2, Irene Kouskoumvekaki2 and Gianni Panagiotou1*

  • * Corresponding author: Gianni Panagiotou

Author Affiliations

1 School of Biological Sciences, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong, China

2 Center for Biological Sequence Analysis, Department of Systems Biology, Technical University of Denmark, Kemitorvet, Building 208, Lyngby DK-2800, Denmark

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BMC Genomics 2014, 15:380  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-380

Published: 17 May 2014



Epidemiological studies in the recent years have investigated the relationship between dietary habits and disease risk demonstrating that diet has a direct effect on public health. Especially plant-based diets -fruits, vegetables and herbs- are known as a source of molecules with pharmacological properties for treatment of several malignancies. Unquestionably, for developing specific intervention strategies to reduce cancer risk there is a need for a more extensive and holistic examination of the dietary components for exploring the mechanisms of action and understanding the nutrient-nutrient interactions. Here, we used colon cancer as a proof-of-concept for understanding key regulatory sites of diet on the disease pathway.


We started from a unique vantage point by having a database of 158 plants positively associated to colon cancer reduction and their molecular composition (~3,500 unique compounds). We generated a comprehensive picture of the interaction profile of these edible and non-edible plants with a predefined candidate colon cancer target space consisting of ~1,900 proteins. This knowledge allowed us to study systematically the key components in colon cancer that are targeted synergistically by phytochemicals and identify statistically significant and highly correlated protein networks that could be perturbed by dietary habits.


We propose here a framework for interrogating the critical targets in colon cancer processes and identifying plant-based dietary interventions as important modifiers using a systems chemical biology approach. Our methodology for better delineating prevention of colon cancer by nutritional interventions relies heavily on the availability of information about the small molecule constituents of our diet and it can be expanded to any other disease class that previous evidence has linked to lifestyle.