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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The effects of tea extracts on proinflammatory signaling

Frank Pajonk1*, Anja Riedisser2, Michael Henke2, William H McBride1 and Bernd Fiebich3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Radiation Oncology, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1714, USA

2 Department of Radiation Oncology, University Hospital of Freiburg, Germany

3 Department of Psychiatry, University Hospital of Freiburg, Germany

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BMC Medicine 2006, 4:28  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-4-28

Published: 1 December 2006



Skin toxicity is a common side effect of radiotherapy for solid tumors. Its management can cause treatment gaps and thus can impair cancer treatment. At present, in many countries no standard recommendation for treatment of skin during radiotherapy exists. In this study, we explored the effect of topically-applied tea extracts on the duration of radiation-induced skin toxicity. We investigated the underlying molecular mechanisms and compared effects of tea extracts with the effects of epigallocatechin-gallate, the proposed most-active moiety of green tea.


Data from 60 patients with cancer of the head and neck or pelvic region topically treated with green or black tea extracts were analyzed retrospectively. Tea extracts were compared for their ability to modulate IL-1β, IL-6, IL-8, TNFα and PGE2 release from human monocytes. Effects of tea extracts on 26S proteasome function were assessed. NF-κB activity was monitored by EMSAs. Viability and radiation response of macrophages after exposure to tea extracts was measured by MTT assays.


Tea extracts supported the restitution of skin integrity. Tea extracts inhibited proteasome function and suppressed cytokine release. NF-κB activity was altered by tea extracts in a complex, caspase-dependent manner, which differed from the effects of epigallocatechin-gallate. Additionally, both tea extracts, as well as epigallocatechin-gallate, slightly protected macrophages from ionizing radiation


Tea extracts are an efficient, broadly available treatment option for patients suffering from acute radiation-induced skin toxicity. The molecular mechanisms underlying the beneficial effects are complex, and most likely not exclusively dependent on effects of tea polyphenols such as epigallocatechin-gallate.