Reciprocal regulation of endothelial nitric-oxide synthase and NADPH oxidase by betulinic acid in human endothelial cells

Katja Steinkamp-Fenske, Larissa Bollinger, Hui Xu, Ying Yao, Sven Horke, Ulrich Förstermann, Huige Li
Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics 2007, 322 (2): 836-42
Nitric oxide (NO) produced by endothelial NO synthase (eNOS) is a protective principle in the vasculature. Many cardiovascular diseases are associated with reduced NO bioactivity and eNOS uncoupling due to oxidative stress. Compounds that reverse eNOS uncoupling and increase eNOS expression are of therapeutic interest. Zizyphi Spinosi semen (ZSS) is one of the most widely used traditional Chinese herbs with protective effects on the cardiovascular system. In human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC) and HUVEC-derived EA.hy 926 cells, an extract of ZSS increased eNOS promoter activity, eNOS mRNA and protein expression, and NO production in a concentration- and time-dependent manner. Major ZSS constituents include saponins, such as jujuboside A and B, and pentacyclic triterpenes, such as betulin and betulinic acid. Jujuboside A, jujuboside B, or betulin had no significant effect on eNOS expression, whereas betulinic acid increased eNOS mRNA and protein expression in HUVEC and EA.hy 926 cells. Interestingly, betulinic acid also attenuated the expression of NADPH oxidase subunits Nox4 and p22phox, thereby reducing oxidative stress and improving eNOS function. Consequently, betulinic acid-treated endothelial cells showed an increased production of bioactive NO (as indicated by a higher efficacy in stimulating cGMP generation in RFL-6 reporter cells). Thus, betulinic acid possesses combined properties of eNOS up-regulation and NADPH oxidase down-regulation. Compounds such as betulinic acid may have a therapeutic potential in cardiovascular disease.

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