BACKGROUND:There is a probable association between consumption of fruit and vegetables and reduced risk of cancer, particularly cancer of the digestive tract. This anti-cancer activity has been attributed in part to anti-oxidants present in these foods. Raspberries in particular are a rich source of the anti-oxidant compounds, such as polyphenols, anthocyanins and ellagitannins.METHODS:A "colon-available" raspberry extract (CARE) was prepared that contained phytochemicals surviving a digestion procedure that mimicked the physiochemical conditions of the upper gastrointestinal tract. The polyphenolic-rich extract was assessed for anti-cancer properties in a series of in vitro systems that model important stages of colon carcinogenesis, initiation, promotion and invasion.RESULTS:The phytochemical composition of CARE was monitored using liquid chromatography mass spectrometry. The colon-available raspberry extract was reduced in anthocyanins and ellagitannins compared to the original raspberry juice but enriched in other polyphenols and polyphenol breakdown products that were more stable to gastrointestinal digestion. Initiation--CARE caused significant protective effects against DNA damage induced by hydrogen peroxide in HT29 colon cancer cells measured using single cell microgelelectrophoresis. Promotion--CARE significantly decreased the population of HT29 cells in the G1 phase of the cell cycle, effectively reducing the number of cells entering the cell cycle. However, CARE had no effect on epithelial integrity (barrier function) assessed by recording the trans-epithelial resistance (TER) of CACO-2 cell monolayers. Invasion--CARE caused significant inhibition of HT115 colon cancer cell invasion using the matrigel invasion assay.CONCLUSION:The results indicate that raspberry phytochemicals likely to reach the colon are capable of inhibiting several important stages in colon carcinogenesis in vitro.