The fungicidal and bactericidal actions of the essential oil (EO) of Melaleuca alternifolia seem well established, but their anti-inflammatory and antioxidative effects remain unclear. This study investigated in vitro the possible role of whole Melaleuca alternifolia EO as a modulator of the inflammatory/non-specific immune response by exploring the chemotaxis and kinetic radical oxygen species (ROS) production of leukocytes and cytokine secretion in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) in humans. The influence of Melaleuca alternifolia EO on the chemotaxis under agarose of isolated neutrophils (PMNs) was evaluated. The kinetics of ROS production by stimulated total circulating leukocytes was followed over 2 h by recording the fluorescence intensity of oxidized dihydrorhodamine 123. The effects of this EO on pro-(interleukin IL-2) and anti-(IL-4 and IL10) inflammatory cytokine secretions were determined by ELISA following incubation of PBMCs with the EO for 24 h. Melaleuca alternifolia EO was inefficient on the chemotaxis of PMNs. It exerted an antioxidant effect, reducing ROS production throughout the kinetic study. Melaleuca alternifolia EO inhibited PBMC proliferation, as revealed by a reduction in IL-2 secretion by stimulated lymphocytes. This EO at 0.1% directly increased the secretion of the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-4 compared with IL-4 secretion without EO (18.5 +/- 10.0 vs 3.3 +/- 1, p < 0.05), and also increased IL-10 secretion at 0.01% (94.9 +/- 38.7 vs 44.1 +/- 18, ns). Melaleuca alternifolia EO may not only act as an anti-inflammatory mediator through its antioxidant activity but may also efficiently protect the organism by reducing the proliferation of inflammatory cells without affecting their capacity to secrete anti-inflammatory cytokines.
Copyright 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.