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Keywords:

  • safrole;
  • murine leukemia WEHI-3 cells;
  • macrophage phagocytosis;
  • NK cell cytotoxicity;
  • leukemic mice

Many anticancer drugs are obtained from phytochemicals and natural products. However, some phytochemicals have mutagenic effects. Safrole, a component of Piper betle inflorescence, has been reported to be a carcinogen. We have previously reported that safrole induced apoptosis in human oral cancer cells in vitro and inhibited the human oral tumor xenograft growth in vivo. Until now, there is no information addressing if safrole promotes immune responses in vivo. To evaluate whether safrole modulated immune function, BALB/c mice were intraperitoneally injected with murine myelomonocytic WEHI-3 leukemia cells to establish leukemia and then were treated with or without safrole at 4 and 16 mg/kg. Animals were sacrificed after 2 weeks post-treatment with safrole for examining the immune cell populations, phagocytosis of macrophages and the natural killer (NK) cells' cytotoxicity. Results indicated that safrole increased the body weight, and decreased the weights of spleen and liver in leukemic mice. Furthermore, safrole promoted the activities of macrophages phagocytosis and NK cells' cytotoxicity in leukemic mice when compared with untreated leukemic mice. After determining the cell marker population, we found that safrole promoted the levels of CD3 (T cells), CD19 (B cells) and Mac-3 (macrophages), but it did not affect CD11b (monocytes) in leukemic mice. In conclusion, safrole altered the immune modulation and inhibited the leukemia WEHI-3 cells in vivo. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Environ Toxicol 28:601–608, 2013.