Helenalin suppresses essential immune functions of activated CD4+ T cells by multiple mechanisms

Carsten Berges, Dominik Fuchs, Gerhard Opelz, Volker Daniel, Cord Naujokat
Molecular Immunology 2009, 46 (15): 2892-901
Helenalin is a naturally occuring sesquiterpene lactone extracted from Arnica montana and Arnica chamissonis ssp. foliosa. Helenalin and its derivatives are known for anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects via inhibiting NF-kappaB and telomerase activity and impairing protein and DNA synthesis, suggesting that helenalin is a potential candidate for the treatment of deregulated and unwanted T cell-mediated immune responses. Here we show that helenalin induces apoptosis in activated CD4+ T cells by triggering the mitochondrial pathway of apoptosis. Induction of apoptosis is accompanied by rapid stabilization of p53, nuclear localization of p53 and AIF, and an increase in ROS production that results in loss of mitochondrial membrane potential (DeltaPsim). Activated CD4+ T cells which survive exposure to helenalin undergo inhibition of proliferation by induction of G2/M cell cycle arrest. Cell cycle arrest is accompanied by the accumulation of cell cycle regulator proteins p21(WAF/CIP1), p2(KIP1) and cyclin D2, whereas abundance of cyclin A and B(1) is decreased. Cell surface expression of the activation-associated receptors CD25, CD27, CD28, CD120b as well as production of IL-2 are impaired. Transcriptional activation of genes encoding for CD25, IL-2 and IFN-gamma is mediated by transcription factors of the NFAT family, and we demonstrate that helenalin suppresses nuclear translocation of NFATc2 in activated CD4+ T cells. Thus, helenalin can be defined as a new immunosuppressive compound suited for the treatment of deregulated and unwanted T cell-mediated immune responses.

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