Cancer is a disease characterized by aberrant proliferative and apoptotic signaling pathways, leading to uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells combined with enhanced survival and evasion of cell death. Current treatment strategies are sometimes ineffective in eradicating more aggressive, metastatic forms of cancer, indicating the need to develop novel therapeutics targeting signaling pathways which are essential for cancer progression. Historically, plant-derived compounds have been utilized in the production of pharmaceuticals and chemotherapeutic compounds for the treatment of cancer, including paclitaxel and docetaxel. Theaflavins, phenolic components present in black tea, have demonstrated anti-cancer potential in cell cultures in vitro and in animal studies in vivo. Theaflavins have been shown to inhibit proliferation, survival, and migration of many cancer cellswhile promoting apoptosis. Treatment with theaflavins has been associated with increased levels of cleaved poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) and cleaved caspases-3, -7, -8, and -9, all markers of apoptosis, and increased expression of the proapoptotic marker Bcl-2-associated X protein (Bax) and concomitant reduction in the antiapoptotic marker B-cell lymphoma 2 (Bcl-2). Additionally, theaflavin treatment reduced phosphorylated Akt, phosphorylated mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR), phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K), and c-Myc levels with increased expression of the tumour suppressor p53. This review summarizes the current in vitro and in vivo evidence available investigating the anti-cancer effects of theaflavins across various cancer cell lines and animal models.
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