Embelin and its derivatives unravel the signaling, proinflammatory and antiatherogenic properties of GPR84 receptor

Pharmacol Res. 2018 May:131:185-198. doi: 10.1016/j.phrs.2018.02.021. Epub 2018 Feb 19.


GPR84 is an orphan G-protein coupled receptor, expressed on monocytes, macrophages and neutrophils and is significantly upregulated by inflammatory stimuli. The physiological role of GPR84 remains largely unknown. Medium chain fatty acids (MCFA) activate the receptor and have been proposed to be its endogenous ligands, although the high concentrations of MCFAs required for receptor activation generally exceed normal physiological levels. We identified the natural product embelin as a highly potent and selective surrogate GPR84 agonist (originally disclosed in patent application WO2007027661A2, 2007) and synthesized close structural analogs with widely varying receptor activities. These tools were used to perform a comprehensive study of GPR84 signaling and function in recombinant cells and in primary human macrophages and neutrophils. Activation of recombinant GPR84 by embelin in HEK293 cells results in Gi/o as well as G12/13-Rho signaling. In human macrophages, GPR84 initiates PTX sensitive Erk1/2 and Akt phosphorylation, PI-3 kinase activation, calcium flux, and release of prostaglandin E2. In addition, GPR84 signaling in macrophages elicits Gi Gβγ-mediated augmentation of intracellular cAMP, rather than the decrease expected from G engagement. GPR84 activation drives human neutrophil chemotaxis and primes them for amplification of oxidative burst induced by FMLP and C5A. Loss of GPR84 is associated with attenuated LPS-induced release of proinflammatory mediators IL-6, KC-GROα, VEGF, MIP-2 and NGAL from peritoneal exudates. While initiating numerous proinflammatory activities in macrophages and neutrophils, GPR84 also possesses GPR109A-like antiatherosclerotic properties in macrophages. Macrophage receptor activation leads to upregulation of cholesterol transporters ABCA1 and ABCG1 and stimulates reverse cholesterol transport. These data suggest that GPR84 may be a target of therapeutic value and that distinct modes of receptor modulation (inhibition vs. stimulation) may be required for inflammatory and atherosclerotic indications.

Keywords: Atherosclerosis; Cholesterol efflux; Embelin; GPR84; Macrophage; Neutrophil.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Benzoquinones / chemistry*
  • Benzoquinones / pharmacology*
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases / metabolism
  • Female
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Factors / chemistry
  • Immunologic Factors / pharmacology
  • Inflammation Mediators / metabolism
  • Macrophages / drug effects*
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neutrophils / drug effects*
  • Neutrophils / metabolism
  • Phosphorylation / drug effects
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / metabolism
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / agonists*
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / metabolism
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / agonists
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects


  • Benzoquinones
  • GPR84 protein, human
  • Gpr84 protein, mouse
  • Immunologic Factors
  • Inflammation Mediators
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases
  • embelin