Piperine ameliorated lupus nephritis by targeting AMPK-mediated activation of NLRP3 inflammasome

Int Immunopharmacol. 2018 Dec;65:448-457. doi: 10.1016/j.intimp.2018.10.025. Epub 2018 Oct 30.


Background: Lupus nephritis (LN) is a leading cause of mortality. The activation of NLRP3 inflammasome contributed to LN development and thus became a therapeutic target. Here we assessed the therapeutic potential of piperine, a bioactive compound known to target NLRP3 inflammasome, on LN development both in vivo and in vitro.

Methods: LN was induced in BALB/c mice via intraperitoneal injection of pristane. Upon treatment with increasing doses of piperine, we assessed renal lesions, measured serum levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, and examined expressions of key components of NLRP3 inflammasome in kidney. To explore the molecular mechanisms, we treated the proximal tubular epithelial HK-2 cells with lipopolysaccharide (LPS) and ATP, and examined the effects of piperine on pyroptosis and the activation of NLRP3 inflammasome. Furthermore, we assessed the significance of AMPK signaling in piperine functions in HK-2 cells.

Results: In pristane-injected mice, piperine significantly ameliorated LN development in a dose-dependent manner, which was associated with the inhibition of NLRP3 inflammasome and the reduction of serum IL-1β, but not of IL-18 level. In HK-2 cells, piperine potently inhibited pyroptosis and the activation of NLRP3 inflammasome in response to LPS + ATP. The effects of piperine were mediated by blocking AMPK activation, and the AMPK agonist metformin bypassed the activities of piperine, and resumed pyroptosis as well as the activation on NLRP3 inflammasome.

Conclusions: By targeting AMPK, piperine significantly suppressed the activation of NLRP3 inflammasome, inhibited the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines, blocked the pyroptosis of tubular epithelial cells, and thus suppressed the development of LN.

Keywords: Caspase-1; IL-1β; Lupus nephritis; NLRP3; Piperine; Pyroptosis.

MeSH terms

  • Alkaloids / therapeutic use*
  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Benzodioxoles / therapeutic use*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Epithelial Cells / drug effects*
  • Epithelial Cells / physiology
  • Humans
  • Inflammasomes / metabolism*
  • Kidney / pathology*
  • Lupus Nephritis / drug therapy*
  • Male
  • Metformin / pharmacology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • NLR Family, Pyrin Domain-Containing 3 Protein / metabolism*
  • Piper nigrum / immunology
  • Piperidines / therapeutic use*
  • Polyunsaturated Alkamides / therapeutic use*
  • Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Pyroptosis
  • Signal Transduction


  • Alkaloids
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Benzodioxoles
  • Inflammasomes
  • NLR Family, Pyrin Domain-Containing 3 Protein
  • Piperidines
  • Polyunsaturated Alkamides
  • Metformin
  • Protein Kinases
  • AMP-activated protein kinase kinase
  • piperine