Helenalin, an anti-inflammatory sesquiterpene lactone from Arnica, selectively inhibits transcription factor NF-kappaB.

Alcoholic extracts prepared form Arnicae flos, the collective name for flowerheads from Arnica montana and A. chamissonis ssp. foliosa, are used therapeutically as anti-inflammatory remedies. The active ingredients mediating the pharmacological effect are mainly sesquiterpene lactones, such as helenalin, 11alpha, 13-dihydrohelenalin, chamissonolid and their ester derivatives. While these compounds affect various cellular processes, current data do not fully explain how sesquiterpene lactones exert their antiinflammatory effect. We show here that helenalin, and, to a much lesser degree, 11alpha, 13-dihydrohelenalin and chamissonolid, inhibit activation of transcription factor NF-kappaB. This difference in efficacy, which correlates with the compounds' antiinflammatory potency in vivo, may be explained by differences in structure and conformation. NF-kappaB, which resides in an inactive, cytoplasmic complex in unstimulated cells, is activated by phosphorylation and degradation of its inhibitory subunit, IkappaB. Helenalin inhibits NF-kappaB activation in response to four different stimuli in T-cells, B-cells and epithelial cells and abrogates kappaB-driven gene expression. This inhibition is selective, as the activity of four other transcription factors, Oct-1, TBP, Sp1 and STAT 5 was not affected. We show that inhibition is not due to a direct modification of the active NF-kappaB heterodimer. Rather, helenalin modifies the NF-kappaB/IkappaB complex, preventing the release of IkappaB. These data suggest a molecular mechanism for the anti-inflammatory effect of sesquiterpene lactones, which differs from that of other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), indomethacin and acetyl salicylic acid.

Biol Chem. 1997 Sep;378(9):951-61

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