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PLoS One. 2012;7(2):e31318. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0031318. Epub 2012 Feb 20.

Potent anti-inflammatory activity of ursolic acid, a triterpenoid antioxidant, is mediated through suppression of NF-κB, AP-1 and NF-AT.

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  • 1Radiation Biology and Health Sciences Division, Bio-Medical Group, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai, India.



Ursolic acid (UA), a pentacyclic triterpenoid carboxylic acid, is the major component of many plants including apples, basil, cranberries, peppermint, rosemary, oregano and prunes and has been reported to possess antioxidant and anti-tumor properties. These properties of UA have been attributed to its ability to suppress NF-κB (nuclear factor kappa B) activation. Since NF-κB, in co-ordination with NF-AT (nuclear factor of activated T cells) and AP-1(activator protein-1), is known to regulate inflammatory genes, we hypothesized that UA might exhibit potent anti-inflammatory effects.


The anti-inflammatory effects of UA were assessed in activated T cells, B cells and macrophages. Effects of UA on ERK, JNK, NF-κB, AP-1 and NF-AT were studied to elucidate its mechanism of action. In vivo efficacy of UA was studied using mouse model of graft-versus-host disease. UA inhibited activation, proliferation and cytokine secretion in T cells, B cells and macrophages. UA inhibited mitogen-induced up-regulation of activation markers and co-stimulatory molecules in T and B cells. It inhibited mitogen-induced phosphorylation of ERK and JNK and suppressed the activation of immunoregulatory transcription factors NF-κB, NF-AT and AP-1 in lymphocytes. Treatment of cells with UA prior to allogenic transplantation significantly delayed induction of acute graft-versus-host disease in mice and also significantly reduced the serum levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-6 and IFN-γ. UA treatment inhibited T cell activation even when added post-mitogenic stimulation demonstrating its therapeutic utility as an anti-inflammatory agent.


The present study describes the detailed mechanism of anti-inflammatory activity of UA. Further, UA may find application in the treatment of inflammatory disorders.

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