Frankincense extracts and boswellic acids, biologically active pentacyclic triterpenes of frankincense, block leukotriene biosynthesis and exert potent anti-inflammatory effects. Screening for additional effects of boswellic acids on further proinflammatory pathways, we observed that acetyl-11-keto-beta-boswellic acid, an established direct, nonredox and noncompetitive 5-lipoxygenase inhibitor, decreased the activity of human leukocyte elastase (HLE) in vitro with an IC50 value of about 15 microM. Among the pentacyclic triterpenes tested in concentrations up to 20 microM, we also observed substantial inhibtion by beta-boswellic acid, amyrin and ursolic acid, but not by 18beta-glycyrrhetinic acid. The data show that the dual inhibition of 5-lipoxygenase and HLE is unique to boswellic acids: other pentacyclic triterpenes with HLE inhibitory activities (e.g., ursolic acid and amyrin) do not inhibit 5-lipoxygenase, and leukotriene biosynthesis inhibitors from different chemical classes (e.g., NDGA, MK-886 and ZM-230,487) do not impair HLE activity. Because leukotriene formation and HLE release are increased simultaneously by neutrophil stimulation in a variety of inflammation- and hypersensitivity-based human diseases, the reported blockade of two proinflammatory enzymes by boswellic acids might be the rationale for the putative antiphlogistic activity of acetyl-11-keto-beta-boswellic acid and derivatives.