The Immunomodulatory Activity of Some Maltese Medicinal Plants: Tradition, Science and Future Prospects
Aims: To review previous studies conducted on some Maltese medicinal plants for their immunomodulatory effects on lymphocytes.
Methodology: Human peripheral lymphocytes were obtained from the whole blood of human healthy volunteers. Several extracts were obtained from Olea europea L., Ephedra fragilis Desf., Aster squamatus (Sprengel) Hieron., Glebionis coronaria (L.) Tzvelev, Calendula arvensis L., Carlina involucrata Poir., Dittrichia viscosa (L.) Greuter, Galactites tomentosa Moench, Inula crithmoides L., Leontodon tuberosus L., Reichardia picroides (L.) Roth, Sonchus oleraceus L. and Ecballium elaterium (L.) A. Rich. These extracts, pure metabolites and phytohaemagglutinin were tested on both resting and stimulated lymphocytes. The blastogenic transformation was monitored by morphological observations and biochemical tests using the WST-1 tetrazolium reagent and the LDH cytotoxicity assay. Results: This current study collates all previous studies. Most of the extracts tested exhibited lymphocyte activation, with the blastogenic transformation. Some extracts exhibited comparable activity to that of PHA. Metabolites showing such effects include oleuropein, ephedrine, cucurbitacin E and flavonoids. Extensive research on cucurbitacin E reveals that, in lymphocyte-cancer cell cocultures, this metabolite induces lymphocyte activation, which in turn provokes cytotoxic effect on cancer cells. Conclusion: The effects of extracts on the lymphocytes was exhibited by several extracts. In the case of oleuropein, ephedrine and cucurbitacin E, the relationship between structure and function can be deduced. However, the extracts from the Asteraceae family contained flavonoids, but no further chemical characterization was carried out. This review recommends further chemical characterization of the extracts and in depth analysis of the mechanisms for lymphocyte activation by plant metabolites. On the other hand, this study shows the potential use of these extracts to boost the immune system, alongside chemotherapeutic agents.
Ms. Tamara Attard
Department of Pharmacy, Faculty of Medicine and Surgery, University of Malta, Msida, MSD 2080, Malta.
Prof. Everaldo Attard
Division of Rural Sciences and Food Systems, Institute of Earth Systems, University of Malta, Msida, MSD 2080, Malta.
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