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Sci Rep. 2015 Sep 15;5:14046. doi: 10.1038/srep14046.

Promotion of regulatory T cell induction by immunomodulatory herbal medicine licorice and its two constituents.

Guo A1,2, He D2,3, Xu HB4, Geng CA4, Zhao J5,2.

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School of Life Sciences, University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei, Anhui 230026, China.
State Key Laboratory of Cell Biology, Institute of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, Shanghai Institute for Biological Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shanghai 200031, China.
School of Life Science and Technology, ShanghaiTech University, Shanghai 201210, China.
State Key Laboratory of Phytochemistry and Plant Resources in West China, Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming 650201, China.
Translational Medical Center for Stem Cell Therapy, Shanghai East Hospital, School of Medicine, Tongji University, Shanghai 200120, China.


Regulatory T cells (Treg) play a critical role to control immune responses and to prevent autoimmunity, thus selective increase of Treg cells in vivo has broad therapeutic implications for autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. Licorice is a well-known herbal medicine used worldwide for over thousands of years, and accumulating evidence has shown its immunomodulatory potential. However, it is not clear whether licorice could regulate the induction and function of Treg cells. Here we found licorice extract could promote Treg cell induction, and then we used a rational approach to isolate its functional fractions and constituents. The results showed that two constituents, isoliquiritigenin and naringenin, promoted Treg cell induction both in vitro and in vivo. The effective fractions and two constituents of licorice also enhanced immune suppression of Treg cells, and they further reduced severity of DSS-induced colitis in mice. This study suggested that promotion of regulatory T cell induction could be an underlying mechanism of the historically and widely used herbal medicine licorice, providing its two effective molecules against autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.

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