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The Yin and Yang Actions of North American Ginseng Root in Modulating the Immune Function of Macrophages

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Chinese Medicine





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BACKGROUND: Immuno-modulatory effects of ginseng, including both immuno-stimulatory and immuno-suppressive effects, have been widely reported. This study aims to determine whether the paradoxical immuno-modulatory effect is related to unique phytochemical profiles of different North American (NA) ginseng, namely aqueous (AQ) and alcoholic (ALC) extracts.

METHODS: AQ and ALC extracts were prepared and their immuno-bioactivity were studied in vitro in murine macrophages (Raw 264.7) through measuring the direct stimulatory production of pro-inflammatory mediator and cytokines as well as the suppression of lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-stimulatory response by the two extracts. Gel permeation chromatography was used to fractionate and isolate phytochemicals for characterization of ginseng extracts.

RESULTS: AQ extract up-regulated the production of nitric oxide (NO), tumour necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) and interleukin-6 (IL-6) while ALC extract did not. ALC extract but not AQ extract suppressed LPS-induced macrophage NO and TNF-α production. These immuno-stimulatory and suppressive effects were exhibited at similar extract concentrations. Moreover, the macrophage-stimulating activity of the AQ extract was inhibited in the presence of ALC extract. Fractionation of AQ extract revealed the presence of two major peaks at 230 nm with average molecular weights of 73,000 and 37,000 Da. The first fraction had similar elution volume as the crude polysaccharide (PS) fraction isolated from the AQ extract, and it was the only bioactive species. Parallel fractionation study of ALC extract yielded similar elution profiles; however, both sub-fractions were devoid of PS. Fraction I of the ALC extract suppressed LPS-induced NO production dose-dependently.

CONCLUSION: ALC extract of NA ginseng, which was devoid of PS, was immuno-inhibitory whereas the AQ extract, which contained PS, was immuno-stimulatory. These extract-related anti-inflammatory and pro-inflammatory effects may be considered as the Yin and Yang actions of ginseng.

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