Screening of five essential oils for identification of potential inhibitors of IL-1-induced Nf-kappaB activation and NO production in human chondrocytes: characterization of the inhibitory activity of alpha-pinene

Planta Med. 2010 Feb;76(3):303-8. doi: 10.1055/s-0029-1186085. Epub 2009 Sep 11.


Nuclear factor-kappaB is a key transcription factor activated by pro-inflammatory signals, like interleukin-1beta (IL-1), being required for the expression of many inflammatory and catabolic mediators, such as nitric oxide (NO), that play an important role in arthritic diseases. This work aimed at screening and identifying natural inhibitors of IL-induced NF-kappaB activation and NO production in human articular chondrocytes. Five essential oils obtained from four plants of the Iberian flora, Mentha x piperita L. (Lamiaceae), Origanum virens L. (Lamiaceae), Lavandula luiseri L. (Lamiaceae), and Juniperus oxycedrus L. subsp. oxycedrus (Cupressaceae), were screened for their ability to prevent IL-1-induced NO production. The oil showing higher inhibitory activity was fractionated, concentrated, analyzed for composition elucidation and prepared for further assays. For this purpose, the human chondrocytic cell line C-28/I2 was used to evaluate NF-kappaB activation by determining the cytoplasmic levels of the total and phosphorylated forms of the inhibitory protein, I kappaB-alpha, and the NF-kappaB-DNA binding activity. The essential oil from the leaves of J. oxycedrus in a concentration of 0.02 % (v/v) achieved the greatest inhibition (80 +/- 8%) of IL-1-induced NO production. Chemical analysis showed that this essential oil is predominantly composed of monoterpene hydrocabons, being alpha-pinene [2,6,6-trimethyl-bicyclo(3.1.1)hept-3-ene] the major constituent (76 %). Similarly to the effect of the whole oil, a fraction containing 93% alpha-pinene reduced significantly IL-1-induced I kappaB-alpha degradation. Moreover, alpha-pinene also decreased I kappaB-alpha phosphorylation, NF-kappaB-DNA binding activity, and NO production. Another fraction containing oxygenated mono- and sesquiterpenes was nearly as effective as alpha-pinene. The ability of the alpha-pinene-containing fraction to reduce IL-1-induced NF-kappaB activation and NO production warrants further studies to demonstrate the usefulness of alpha-pinene in the treatment of arthritic diseases and other conditions in which NF-kappaB and NO play pathological roles.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bicyclic Monoterpenes
  • Cell Line
  • Chondrocytes / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-1 / metabolism
  • Juniperus / chemistry*
  • Lamiaceae / chemistry
  • Monoterpenes / isolation & purification
  • Monoterpenes / pharmacology*
  • NF-kappa B / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Nitric Oxide / biosynthesis*
  • Oils, Volatile / isolation & purification
  • Oils, Volatile / pharmacology*
  • Plant Extracts / isolation & purification
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology*


  • Bicyclic Monoterpenes
  • Interleukin-1
  • Monoterpenes
  • NF-kappa B
  • Oils, Volatile
  • Plant Extracts
  • Nitric Oxide
  • alpha-pinene