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Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2010 Nov;299(5):H1604-9. doi: 10.1152/ajpheart.00073.2010. Epub 2010 Sep 10.

Dark chocolate receptors: epicatechin-induced cardiac protection is dependent on delta-opioid receptor stimulation.

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  • 1Department of Anesthesiology, University of California, San Diego, California, USA.


Epicatechin, a flavonoid, is a well-known antioxidant linked to a variety of protective effects in both humans and animals. In particular, its role in protection against cardiovascular disease has been demonstrated by epidemiologic studies. Low-dose epicatechin, which does not have significant antioxidant activity, is also protective; however, the mechanism by which low-dose epicatechin induces this effect is unknown. Our laboratory tested the hypothesis that low-dose epicatechin mediates cardiac protection via opioid receptor activation. C57BL/6 mice were randomly assigned to 1 of 10 groups: control, epicatechin, naloxone (nonselective opioid receptor antagonist), epicatechin + naloxone, naltrindole (δ-specific opioid receptor antagonist), epicatechin + naltrindole, norbinaltorphimine (nor-BNI, κ-specific opioid receptor antagonist), epicatechin + nor-BNI, 5-hydroxydecanoic acid [5-HD, ATP-sensitive potassium channel antagonist], and epicatechin + 5-HD. Epicatechin (1 mg/kg) or other inhibitors (5 mg/kg) were administered by oral gavage or intraperitoneal injection, respectively, daily for 10 days. Mice were subjected to 30 min coronary artery occlusion followed by 2 h of reperfusion, and infarct size was determined via planimetry. Whole heart homogenates were assayed for downstream opioid receptor signaling targets. Infarct size was significantly reduced in epicatechin- and epicatechin + nor-BNI-treated mice compared with control mice. This protection was blocked by naloxone, naltrindole, and 5-HD. Epicatechin and epicatechin + nor-BNI increased the phosphorylation of Src, Akt, and IκBα, while simultaneously decreasing the expression of c-Jun NH(2)-terminal kinase and caspase-activated DNase. All signaling effects are consistent with opioid receptor stimulation and subsequent cardiac protection. Naloxone, naltrindole, and 5-HD attenuated these effects. In conclusion, epicatechin acts via opioid receptors and more specifically through the δ-opioid receptor to produce cardiac protection from ischemia-reperfusion injury.

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