Investigation into the biological properties of the olive polyphenol, hydroxytyrosol: mechanistic insights by genome-wide mRNA-Seq analysis

Haloom Rafehi, Andrea J Smith, Aneta Balcerczyk, Mark Ziemann, Jenny Ooi, Shannon J Loveridge, Emma K Baker, Assam El-Osta, Tom C. Karagiannis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)


The medicinal properties of the leaves and fruit of Olea Europaea (olive tree) have been known since antiquity. Numerous contemporary studies have linked the Mediterranean diet with increased health. In particular, consumption of olive oil has been associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. Increasingly, there has been an interest in the biological properties of polyphenols, which are minor constituents of olive oil. For example, hydroxytyrosol has been shown to be a potent antioxidant and has anti-atherogenic and anti-cancer properties. The overall aim of this study was to provide insights into the molecular mechanisms of action of hydroxytyrosol using genome-wide mRNA-Seq. Initial experiments were aimed at assessing cytotoxicity, apoptosis and cell cycle effects of hydroxytyrosol in various cell lines. The findings indicated a dose-dependent reduction in cell viability in human erythroleukemic K562 and human keratinocytes. When comparing the viability in parental CEM-CCRF and R100 cells (which overexpress the P-glycoprotein pump), it was determined that the R100 cells were more resistant to effects of hydroxytyrosol suggesting efflux by the multi-drug resistance pump. By comparing the uptake of Hoechst 33342 in the two cell lines that had been pretreated with hydroxytyrosol, it was determined that the polyphenol may have P-glycoprotein-modulating activity. Further, initial studies indicated modest radioprotective effects of relatively low doses of hydroxytyrosol in human keratinocytes. Analysis of mRNA sequencing data identified that treatment of keratinocytes with 20 muM hydroxytyrosol results in the upregulation of numerous antioxidant proteins and enzymes, including heme oxygenase-1 (15.46-fold upregulation), glutaredoxin (1.65) and glutathione peroxidase (1.53). This may account for the radioprotective activity of the compound, and reduction in oxidative stress suggests a mechanism for chemoprevention of cancer by hydroxytyrosol. Alteration in the expression of transcription factors may also contribute to the anti-cancer effects described in numerous studies. These include changes in the expression of STAT3, STAT6, SMAD7 and ETS-1. The telomerase subunit TERT was also found to be downregulated in K562 cells. Overall, our findings provide insights into the mechanisms of action of hydroxytyrosol, and more generally, we identify potential gene candidates for further exploration.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343-355
Number of pages13
JournalGenes and Nutrition
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • Hydroxytyrosol
  • Olive polyphenol
  • Olive oil
  • Radioprotection
  • mRNA-Seq

Cite this