The anti-inflammatory natural product parthenolide from the medicinal herb Feverfew directly binds to and inhibits IkappaB kinase

Chem Biol. 2001 Aug;8(8):759-66. doi: 10.1016/s1074-5521(01)00049-7.


Background: Biologically active natural products continue to be useful in the exploration and control of intracellular signaling processes. For example, the sesquiterpene lactone parthenolide from the anti-inflammatory medicinal herb Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) appears to inhibit the pro-inflammatory signaling pathway. Parthenolide's direct molecular target, however, remains unknown. We set out to identify the molecular mechanisms of parthenolide's anti-inflammatory activity.

Results: A parthenolide affinity reagent was synthesized and shown to bind directly to and inhibit IkappaB kinase beta (IKKbeta), the kinase subunit known to play a critical role in cytokine-mediated signaling. Mutation of cysteine 179 in the activation loop of IKKbeta abolished sensitivity towards parthenolide. Moreover, we showed that parthenolide's in vitro and in vivo anti-inflammatory activity is mediated through the alpha-methylene gamma-lactone moiety shared by other sesquiterpene lactones.

Conclusions: In recent years, the multi-subunit IKK complex has been shown to be responsible for cytokine-mediated stimulation of genes involved in inflammation and as such represents an attractive target for pharmaceutical intervention. Our finding that parthenolide targets this kinase complex provides a possible molecular basis for the anti-inflammatory properties of parthenolide. In addition, these results may be useful in the development of additional anti-inflammatory agents.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / chemistry
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / metabolism*
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacology
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use
  • Biotinylation
  • Edema / chemically induced
  • Edema / drug therapy
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • I-kappa B Kinase
  • Luciferases / genetics
  • Luciferases / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mutation
  • NF-kappa B / antagonists & inhibitors
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism
  • Plants, Medicinal / chemistry*
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Sesquiterpenes / chemistry
  • Sesquiterpenes / metabolism*
  • Sesquiterpenes / pharmacology
  • Sesquiterpenes / therapeutic use
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Tanacetum parthenium / chemistry*
  • Transfection
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / pharmacology


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • NF-kappa B
  • Sesquiterpenes
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • parthenolide
  • Luciferases
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • CHUK protein, human
  • Chuk protein, mouse
  • I-kappa B Kinase
  • IKBKB protein, human
  • IKBKE protein, human
  • Ikbkb protein, mouse
  • Ikbke protein, mouse