Background: Recently, considerable attention has been focused on exploring the potential antioxidant properties of plant extracts or isolated products of plant origin. Prunella vulgaris var. lilacina is widely distributed in Korea, Japan, China, and Europe, and it continues to be used to treat inflammation, eye pain, headache, and dizziness. However, reports on the antioxidant activities of P. vulgaris var. lilacina are limited, particularly concerning the relationship between its phenolic content and antioxidant capacity. In this study, we investigated the antioxidant and anticancer activities of an ethanol extract from P. vulgaris var. lilacina and its fractions.
Methods: Dried powder of P. vulgaris var. lilacina was extracted with ethanol, and the extract was fractionated to produce the hexane fraction, butanol fraction, chloroform fraction and residual water fraction. The phenolic content was assayed using the Folin-Ciocalteu colorimetric method. Subsequently, the antioxidant activities of the ethanol extract and its fractions were analyzed employing various antioxidant assay methods including DPPH, FRAP, ABTS, SOD activity and production of reactive oxygen species. Additionally, the extract and fractions were assayed for their ability to exert cytotoxic activities on various cancer cells using the MTT assay. We also investigated the expression of genes associated with apoptotic cell death by RT-PCR.
Results: The total phenolic contents of the ethanol extract and water fraction of P. vulgaris var. lilacina were 303.66 and 322.80 mg GAE/g dry weight (or fractions), respectively. The results showed that the ethanol extract and the water fraction of P. vulgaris var. lilacina had higher antioxidant content than other solvent fractions, similar to their total phenolic content. Anticancer activity was also tested using the HepG2, HT29, A549, MKN45 and HeLa cancer cell lines. The results clearly demonstrated that the P. vulgaris var. lilacina ethanol extract induced significant cytotoxic effects on the various cancer cell lines, and these effects were stronger than those induced by the P. vulgaris var. lilacina solvent fractions. We also investigated the expression of genes associated with apoptotic cell death. We confirmed that the P. vulgaris var. lilacina ethanol extract and water fraction significantly increased the expression of p53, Bax and Fas.
Conclusions: These results suggest that the ethanol extract from P. vulgaris var. lilacina and its fractions could be applied as natural sources of antioxidants and anticancer activities in food and in the pharmaceutical industry.