Aqueous extracts and polysaccharides from Marshmallow roots (Althea officinalis L.): cellular internalisation and stimulation of cell physiology of human epithelial cells in vitro

J Ethnopharmacol. 2010 Jan 8;127(1):62-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2009.09.050. Epub 2009 Sep 30.


Aims: Aqueous extracts from the roots of Althea officinalis L. (Malvaceae) are widely used for treatment of irritated mucosa. The clinical proven effects are related to the presence of bioadhesive and mucilaginous polysaccharides from the rhamnogalacturonan type, leading to the physical formation of mucin-like on top of the irritated tissues. No data are available if the extracts or the polysaccharides from these extract exert an active influence on mucosal or connective tissue cells, in order to initiated changes in cell physiology, useful for better tissue regeneration.

Methodology: In vitro investigations of aqueous A. officinalis extract AE and raw polysaccharides (RPS) on epithelial KB cells and primary dermal human fibroblasts (pNHF) using WST1 vitality test and BrdU proliferation ELISA. Gene expression analysis by microarray from KB cells. Internalisation studies of polysaccharides were performed by laser scanning microscopy.

Results: AE (1, 10 microg/mL) had stimulating effect on cell viability and proliferation of epithelial KB cells. RPS (1, 10 microg/mL) stimulated cell vitality of epithelial cells significantly without triggering the cells into higher proliferation status. Neither AE nor RPS had any effect on fibroblasts. FITC-labeled RPS was shown to be internalised into epithelial cells, but not into fibroblasts. FITC-RPS was shown to form bioadhesive layers on the cell surface of dermal fibroblasts. Microarray analysis indicated an up-regulation of genes related to cell adhesion proteins, growth regulators, extracellular matrix, cytokine release and apoptosis.

Conclusion: Aqueous extracts and polysaccharides from the roots of A. officinalis are effective stimulators of cell physiology of epithelial cells which can prove the traditional use of Marshmallow preparations for treatment of irritated mucous membranes within tissue regeneration.

MeSH terms

  • Althaea / chemistry*
  • Carbohydrates / chemistry
  • Cell Membrane / drug effects
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Epithelial Cells / drug effects*
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Epithelial Cells / ultrastructure
  • Fibroblasts / drug effects
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Fibroblasts / ultrastructure
  • Fluorescent Dyes / chemistry
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Humans
  • KB Cells
  • Microarray Analysis
  • Microscopy, Confocal / methods
  • Organ Specificity
  • Phytotherapy
  • Plant Extracts / chemistry
  • Plant Extracts / metabolism
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacokinetics*
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology*
  • Plant Roots / chemistry*
  • Polysaccharides / chemistry
  • Polysaccharides / isolation & purification
  • Polysaccharides / metabolism
  • Polysaccharides / pharmacokinetics*
  • Polysaccharides / pharmacology*
  • Skin / drug effects
  • Skin / metabolism
  • Skin / ultrastructure


  • Carbohydrates
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Plant Extracts
  • Polysaccharides