Formononetin, a phytoestrogen from the root of Astragalus membranaceus, is used as a blood enhancer and to improve blood microcirculation in complementary and alternative medicine. The present study investigated the influence of formononetin on the expression of early growth response factor-1 (Egr-1) and growth factors contributing to wound healing. Formononetin significantly increased growth factors such as transforming growth factor-beta 1 (TGF-β1), vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) and basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) in human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs). Formononetin also increased the expression of Egr-1 transcription factor by 3.2- and 10.5-fold, compared with recombinant VEGF(125) in HUVECs. The formononetin-mediated 12%-43% increase induced endothelial cell proliferation and recovered the migration of wounded HUVECs. In an ex vivo angiogenesis assay, formononetin produced a larger capillary sprouting area than produced using recombinant VEGF(125). Cell proliferation and migration of HUVECs were also greater in the presence of formonectin than VEGF(125). Western blot analysis of scratch-wounded confluent HUVECs showed that formononetin induced the phosphorylation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) and slightly inhibited the phosphorylation of p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK). The formononetin-mediated sustained activation of Egr-1 was suppressed by the ERK inhibitor PD98059 and the p38 inhibitor SB203580. PD98059 inhibited the formononetin-induced endothelial proliferation and repair in scratch-wounded HUVECs, SB203580 increased the cell proliferation and wound healing. Formononetin accelerate wound closure rate as early as day 3 after surgery and consistently observed until day 10 after in wound animal model. These data suggest that formononetin promotes endothelial repair and wound healing in a process involving the over-expression of Egr-1 transcription factor through the regulation of the ERK1/2 and p38 MAPK pathways.
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