Background: To determine the mechanism by which the flavonoid glycoside astragalin (AST) reduces ovarian failure in an aged rat model of menopause.
Methods: The in vivo effect of AST on granulosa cell (GC) apoptosis in aged female rats was determined using flow cytometry. In vitro, the effects of AST on cultured GCs were investigated using the MTT proliferation assay and western blot assays.
Results: Aged rats had significantly higher GC apoptosis as compared with young female rats. Treatment of aged rats with AST (all three doses; p < 0.01) or Progynova (p < 0.01) significantly reduced GC apoptosis as compared with the aged controls. The proportions of total apoptotic GCs was 25.70%, 86.65%, 47.04%, 27.02%, 42.09% and 56.42% in the normal, aged, 17β-estradiol (E₂), high dose AST, medium dose AST, and low dose AST-treated groups, respectively. Significant increases of serum E₂ and P₄ levels, as well as altered levels of serum follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) levels. In cultured rat GCs, AST stimulated GC proliferation, E₂ and progesterone (P₄) secretion, reduced apoptosis, reduced the level of the pro-apoptotic protein Bcl-2 (p < 0.01), but had no effect on BAX.
Conclusions: AST enhanced ovarian function in aged female rats by increasing E₂ and P₄ levels, and reducing ovarian GC apoptosis via a mechanism involving Bcl-2. These data demonstrate a new pharmacological activity for AST, as well as a novel mechanism of action, and further suggest that AST may be a new therapeutic agent for the management of menopausal symptoms.
Keywords: Bax; Bcl-2; apoptosis; astragalin; herbal medicine; mechanism; menopause.