Therapeutic action and underlying mechanisms of a combination of two pentacyclic triterpenes, α- and β-amyrin, in a mouse model of colitis


João B Calixto, Department of Pharmacology, Center of Biological Sciences, Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina (UFSC), Campus Universitário, Trindade, 88049-900, Florianópolis, SC, Brazil. E-mail: or


Background and purpose:  α- and β-amyrin are pentacyclic triterpenes found in plants and are known to exhibit pronounced anti-inflammatory effects. Here, we evaluated the effects of a 1:1 mixture of α- and β-amyrin (α,β-amyrin) on an experimental model of colitis in mice.

Experimental approach:  Colitis was induced in Swiss male mice by trinitrobenzene sulphonic acid (TNBS) and followed up to 72 h; animals were treated systemically with α,β-amyrin, dexamethasone or vehicle. Macro- and microscopic damage, myeloperoxidase activity and cytokine levels were assessed in colons. Histological sections were immunostained for cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), vascular endothelial growth factor, phospho-p65 nuclear factor-κB (NF-κB) and phospho-cyclic AMP response element-binding protein (CREB)

Key results:  TNBS-induced colitis was associated with tissue damage, neutrophil infiltration and time-dependent increase of inflammatory mediators. Treatment with α,β-amyrin (3 mg·kg−1, i.p.) or dexamethasone (1 mg·kg−1, s.c.) consistently improved tissue damage scores and abolished polymorphonuclear cell infiltration. α,β-Amyrin, like dexamethasone, significantly diminished interleukin (IL)-1β levels and partially restored IL-10 levels in colon tissues 72 h after colitis induction, but only α,β-amyrin reduced vascular endothelial growth factor expression by immunohistochemistry. The colonic expression of COX-2 at 24 h and that of phospho-NF-κB and phospho-CREB (peaking at 6 h) after colitis induction were consistently inhibited by both α,β-amyrin and dexamethasone.

Conclusions and implications:  Systemic administration of α,β-amyrin exerted a marked and rapid inhibition of TNBS-induced colitis, related to the local suppression of inflammatory cytokines and COX-2 levels, possibly via inhibition of NF-κB and CREB-signalling pathways. Taken together, our data suggest a potential use of α,β-amyrin to control inflammatory responses in bowel disease.