Objective: To evaluate the regulatory properties of the essential oil of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree oil) on the production of oxygen derived reactive species by human peripheral blood leukocytes activated in vitro.
Materials and methods: The ability of tea tree oil to reduce superoxide production by neutrophils and monocytes stimulated with N-formyl-methionyl-leucyl-phenylalanine (fMLP), lipopolysaccharide (LPS) or phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA) was examined.
Results: The water-soluble fraction of tea tree oil had no significant effect on agonist-stimulated superoxide production by neutrophils, but significantly and dose-dependently suppressed agonist-stimulated superoxide production by monocytes. This suppression was not due to cell death. Chemical analysis identified the water-soluble components to be terpinen-4-ol, alpha-terpineol and 1,8-cineole. When examined individually, terpinen-4-ol significantly suppressed fMLP- and LPS- but not PMA-stimulated superoxide production; alpha-terpineol significantly suppressed fMLP-, LPS- and PMA-stimulated superoxide production; 1,8-cineole was without effect.
Conclusion: Tea tree oil components suppress the production of superoxide by monocytes, but not neutrophils, suggesting the potential for selective regulation of cell types by these components during inflammation.