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Immunology. 1997 Jan;90(1):115-20.

Inhibition of human complement by beta-glycyrrhetinic acid.

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Research Centre for Natural Products and Phytopharmaceuticals, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Utrecht, The Netherlands.


Licorice, the root extract of Glycyrrhiza glabra I., is used as a medicine for various diseases. Anti-inflammatory as well as anti-allergic activities have been attributed to one of its main constituents, glycyrrhizin. These activities are mainly ascribed to the action of the aglycone, beta-glycyrrhetinic acid. beta-Glycyrrhetinic acid has a steroid-like structure and is believed to have immunomodulatory properties. To determine whether interference with complement functions may contribute to the immunomodulatory activity of beta-glycyrrhetinic acid, its effects on the classical and alternative activation pathways of human complement were investigated. We found that beta-glycyrrhetinic acid is a potent inhibitor of the classical complement pathway (IC50 = 35 microM), whereas no inhibitory activity was observed towards the alternative pathway (IC50 > 2500 microM). The anticomplementary activity of beta-glycyrrhetinic acid was dependent on its conformation, since the alpha-form was not active. It was also established that naturally occurring steroids, e.g. hydrocortisone and cortisone, did not inhibit human complement activity under similar conditions. Detailed mechanistic studies revealed that beta-glycyrrhetinic acid acts at the level of complement component C2.

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