Consumption of green tea (GT) extracts or purified catechins has shown the ability to prevent oral and other cancers and inhibit cancer progression in rodent models, but the evidence for this in humans is mixed. Working with humans, we sought to understand the source of variable responses to GT by examining its effects on oral epithelium. Lingual epithelial RNA and lingual and gingival microbiota were measured before and after 4 weeks of exposure in tobacco smokers, whom are at high risk of oral cancer. GT consumption had on average inconsistent effects on miRNA expression in the oral epithelium. Only analysis that examined paired miRNAs, showing changed and coordinated expression with GT exposure, provided evidence for a GT effect on miRNAs, identifying miRNAs co-expressed with two hubs, miR-181a-5p and 301a-3p. An examination of the microbiome on cancer prone lingual mucosa, in contrast, showed clear shifts in the relative abundance of Streptococcus and Staphylococcus, and other genera after GT exposure. These data support the idea that tea consumption can consistently change oral bacteria in humans, which may affect carcinogenesis, but argue that GT effects on oral epithelial miRNA expression in humans vary between individuals.
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