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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) May 12 - Apigenin, a dietary flavonoid found in some herbs and vegetables, suppresses lupus-like disease in mice, according to a report by researchers in Chicago.

"In lupus, most damaging side effects occur from chronic life-long maintenance therapy with corticosteroids and cytotoxic agents, and despite the use of such agents, flares of disease occur," Dr. Syamal K. Datta, from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, told Reuters Health. "Therefore, alternative agents, like apigenin, that preferentially inhibit chronically activated autoimmune cells of lupus should be developed for blocking inflammation."

Dr. Datta and colleagues used apigenin to treat spontaneously developing systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) in a mouse model and studied its mechanistic effects on the immune system.

In vitro, apigenin dose-dependently suppressed the interferon-gamma response to nuclear autoantigen and IgG autoantibody production, the authors report.

Young mice treated intraperitoneally with apigenin showed suppressed production of interferon-gamma, interleukin-17 and IgG autoantibody by lupus T cells in response to nucleosome.

Apigenin therapy also suppressed IgG autoantibody levels in serum and delayed the incidence of severe renal disease in the mice, the researchers note.

All mice treated with apigenin were alive at 42-52 weeks of age, whereas 20% of control mice had died by then, Dr. Datta's group reports in the April 30th issue of Arthritis Research & Therapy.

Apigenin's effects were related to its downregulation of COX-2 expression in lupus T cells, B cells, and antigen-presenting cells and their subsequent apoptosis, the investigators note.

"Although apigenin is a bioflavonoid (flavone) that is widely distributed in plants, especially herbs including parsley, chamomile, thyme, and peppermint, and vegetables like celery, the bioavailability of apigenin is an issue, because of its inactivation in the GI tract and liver," Dr. Datta explained. "Nevertheless, lupus patients (and others with Th17 and COX2 mediated inflammatory and neoplastic diseases) should be encouraged to increase their dietary intake of such vegetables and fruits, because some of the dietary apigenin does get through into the body undegraded."

"We are planning to determine the effect of apigenin on lupus patients' peripheral blood mononuclear cells in vitro, especially to determine apigenin's ability to suppress autoantigen presentation by the patient's antigen-presenting cells and block autoimmune responses of lupus patient's T and B cells," Dr. Datta added.

Arthritis Res Ther 2009;11:R59.
 
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