Subchronic exposure to ellagic acid impairs cytotoxic T-cell function and suppresses humoral immunity in mice

Immunopharmacol Immunotoxicol. 2003 Aug;25(3):409-22. doi: 10.1081/iph-120024508.


Ellagic acid (EA) is present in a variety of foods such as grapes, strawberries, raspberries, and nuts. It is a dietary plant phenol that has been shown to inhibit oxidative stress and chemical carcinogenesis. Although several studies have examined the protective mechanisms of dietary EA including the induction of detoxifying enzymes, regulation of cell cycle, chelation of nickel, and prevention of DNA methylation, none have addressed the role of EA in immunological surveillance. This study investigates the status of immune function in B6C3F1 mice exposed continuously to EA in drinking water at 0.5, 1.0, or 2.0 mg/kg/day for 28 days. Although this range of exposure is above the estimated human daily intake (approximately 940 microg/day for 70 kg person or 13.4 microg/kg/day), these levels would not be unreasonable if EA were used as a dietary supplement or as a chemotherapeutic agent. Previous reports have demonstrated the anticarcinogenic effects of EA at levels 10- to 250-fold greater than those applied in this study. Immunological parameters assessed included natural killer (NK) cell activity, cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) activity, IgM antibody plaque forming cell (PFC) response, thymus, spleen, kidney, and liver mass, and total cellularity for the thymus and spleen. Subchronic exposure to EA for 28 days in drinking water caused significant suppression of specific IgM antibody responses in the 2.0 mg/kg EA treatment group and suppressed cytotoxic T-cell function in the 0.5 and 1.0 mg/kg EA treatment groups. All other immunological parameters were within normal ranges. Kidney and liver mass were not altered after treatment with EA. The results from this study indicate that EA suppressed both IgM antibody responses and CTLs. These observations suggest important implications on human health should EA be prescribed as a chemotherapeutic agent or a preventative dietary supplement for cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibody Formation / drug effects*
  • Body Weight
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Ellagic Acid / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Immunoglobulin M / blood*
  • Immunologic Factors / pharmacology*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / drug effects
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred DBA
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic / drug effects*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic / immunology
  • Time Factors


  • Immunoglobulin M
  • Immunologic Factors
  • Ellagic Acid