Boswellic acids from frankincense inhibit lipopolysaccharide functionality through direct molecular interference

Biochem Pharmacol. 2012 Jan 1;83(1):115-21. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2011.09.026. Epub 2011 Oct 5.


Lipophilic extracts of gum resins of Boswellia species (BSE) are used in folk medicine to treat various inflammatory disorders and infections. The molecular background of the beneficial pharmacological effects of such extracts is still unclear. Various boswellic acids (BAs) have been identified as abundant bioactive ingredients of BSE. Here we report the identification of defined BAs as direct inhibitors of lipopolysaccharide (LPS) functionality and LPS-induced cellular responses. In pull-down experiments, LPS could be precipitated using an immobilized BA, implying direct molecular interactions. Binding of BAs to LPS leads to an inhibition of LPS activity which was observed in vitro using a modified limulus amoebocyte lysate assay. Analysis of different BAs revealed clear structure-activity relationships with the classical β-BA as most potent derivative (IC(50)=1.8 μM). In RAW264.7 cells, LPS-induced expression of inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS, EC was selectively inhibited by those BAs that interfered with LPS activity. In contrast, interferon-γ-induced iNOS induction was not affected by BAs. We conclude that structurally defined BAs are LPS inhibiting agents and we suggest that β-BA may contribute to the observed anti-inflammatory effects of BSE during infections by suppressing LPS activity.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Boswellia* / chemistry
  • Cell Line
  • Directed Molecular Evolution* / methods
  • Lipopolysaccharides / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Lipopolysaccharides / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Plant Extracts / chemistry
  • Plant Extracts / isolation & purification
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology*
  • Triterpenes / chemistry
  • Triterpenes / isolation & purification
  • Triterpenes / pharmacology*


  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • Plant Extracts
  • Triterpenes
  • boswellic acid