Extracts of leaves of different species of the genus Combretum have been used historically to treat a variety of medicinal problems. However, little is known about the active components conferring therapeutic properties to these extracts. In the present studies, we evaluated biochemical properties and immunomodulatory activity of polysaccharides isolated from the leaves of Combretum racemosum. Water-soluble polysaccharides from leaves of C. racemosum were extracted and fractionated by DEAE-cellulose and Diaion HP-20 to obtain a Diaion-bound fraction, designated Combretum polysaccharide-acidic bound or CP-AB, which was eluted with methanol, and an unbound fraction, designated as CP-AU. Molecular weight determination, sugar analysis, and other physical and chemical characterization of the fractions were performed. Fraction CP-AU (mol. weight 5.0 kDa) contained type II arabinogalactan and had potent immunomodulatory activity, inducing the production of interleukin (IL)-1β, -6, -10, and tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) by human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) and MonoMac-6 monocytic cells. Likewise, intraperitoneal administration of CP-AU increased in vivo serum levels of IL-6 and monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1) in mice. CP-AU-induced secretion of TNF-α in PBMC was prevented by Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) antagonist LPS-RS. Treatment with CP-AU induced phosphorylation of Akt2, Akt3, GSK-3β, HSP27, mTOR, and all p38 MAPK isoforms (α, β, δ, and γ), as well as stimulation of AP-1/NF-κB transcriptional activity. In addition, CP-AU effectively agglutinated erythrocytes from several species, including human, mouse, and rabbit. In contrast, fraction CP-AB was inactive in all biological tests, including cytokine production and hemagglutination. These data suggest that at least part of the beneficial therapeutic effects reported for the water extracts of leaves from C. racemosum are due to modulation of leukocyte functions.
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