Modulation of Pgp function by boswellic acids

Planta Med. 2006 May;72(6):507-13. doi: 10.1055/s-2006-931536.


Boswellic acids, the main active ingredients of Boswellia serrata, are gaining more and more importance in the treatment of peritumoural oedema and chronic inflammatory diseases. They may be even considered as alternative drugs to corticosteroids in reducing cerebral peritumoural oedema. An important focus for drugs acting in the central nervous system is achieving a high extent of brain penetration. Today there is increasing evidence for the importance of transporters, especially P-glycoprotein (Pgp), for drug disposition and resulting clinical response. Pharmacokinetic studies revealed that the concentrations of the potent keto derivatives, the 11-keto-beta-boswellic acid (KBA) and the acetyl-11-keto-beta-boswellic acid (AKBA), in proportion to boswellic acids lacking a keto group, like the beta-boswellic acid, are much lower in plasma than in the orally administered extract. Moreover the brain/plasma ratio for KBA and AKBA determined in preliminary experiments on rats was only about 0.51 and 0.81, respectively, in spite of their lipophilicity. Until now little is known about the cerebral pharmacokinetics of boswellic acids and how it may be influenced. Since many drugs are known to interact with Pgp at the level of the intestine and the blood-brain barrier the modulatory potencies of the Boswellia serrata extract of H15(R) and the major boswellic acids on the transport activity of Pgp have been determined in two in vitro assays. A human lymphocytic leukaemia cell line (VLB cells) expressing Pgp was chosen as model for human Pgp, and porcine brain capillary endothelial cells (PBCEC cells) were taken as model for the blood-brain barrier using calcein acetoxymethyl ester (calcein-AM) as Pgp substrate. It was found that the Boswellia extract, as well as the keto-boswellic acids inhibit the transport activity of Pgp in the micromolecular range in both cell types. No modulation was observed using those boswellic acids which have no keto group in their structure. The inhibition of Pgp at the blood-brain barrier by Boswellia extract is probably not relevant for the brain availability of other Pgp substrates, because of the low plasma levels determined for KBA and AKBA. However the presented data could not exclude the possibility of drug interactions caused by modulation of Pgp by extracts of Boswellia serrata on the gastrointestinal level.

MeSH terms

  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1 / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / administration & dosage
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacokinetics*
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / metabolism*
  • Boswellia*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Humans
  • Phytotherapy*
  • Plant Extracts / blood
  • Plant Extracts / metabolism
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacokinetics
  • Rats
  • Swine
  • Triterpenes / administration & dosage
  • Triterpenes / pharmacokinetics*
  • Triterpenes / therapeutic use


  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Plant Extracts
  • Triterpenes
  • boswellic acid