Wasabia japonica is a member of the Brassicaceae family. Here, fresh stems of the plant have been trimmed and prepared for sale.

Alarm Bell

The wasabi receptor's role in cancer

Cancer cells express unusually high levels of TRPA1, a calcium channel protein. Research by cell biologists at HMS recently showed why: Tumor cells use TRPA1 to defend against toxic cellular byproducts known as reactive oxygen species.

Normally, TRPA1 acts to alert the body to environmental irritants that could be harmful. Eat something exceptionally spicy, for example, and tears may follow in reaction to TRPA1’s alarm. This response has earned TRPA1 the nickname “the wasabi receptor.”

Not only do the findings show how critical a defense against oxidative stress is to cancer’s progression, they also offer insight into the protein’s role in the disease and, possibly, in new treatments.

Brugge JS, et al., Cancer Cell, June 2018

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