British Journal of Nutrition

Full Papers

Molecular Nutrition

NF-κB-dependent anti-inflammatory activity of urolithins, gut microbiota ellagic acid-derived metabolites, in human colonic fibroblasts

Antonio González-Sarríasa1, Mar Larrosaa1 c1, Francisco Abraham Tomás-Barberána1, Piero Dolaraa2 and Juan Carlos Espína1

a1 Department of Food Science and Technology, Research Group on Quality, Safety and Bioactivity of Plant Foods, CEBAS-CSIC, 30100 Campus de Espinardo, Murcia, Spain

a2 Department of Pharmacology, University of Florence, 50139 Florence, Italy


Previous studies have reported the anti-inflammatory properties of pomegranate extracts, suggesting that ellagitannins (ET) and ellagic acid (EA) are the main anti-inflammatory compounds. However, both ET and EA are metabolised in vivo by the gut microbiota to yield urolithins (Uro) which can be found in the gut and in systemic bloodstream. The present study was carried out to evaluate the individual effect of EA and their microbiota-derived metabolites Uro on colon fibroblasts upon IL-1β treatment as an in vitro inflammation model. Uro-A and Uro-B (10 μm) inhibited PGE2 production (85 and 40 %, respectively) after IL-1β stimulation, whereas EA did not show any effect. Uro-A, but not Uro-B, down-regulated cyclo-oxygenase-2 (COX-2) and microsomal PGE synthase-1 (mPGES-1) mRNA expression and protein levels. Both Uro inhibited NF-κB translocation to nucleus. Slight but significant effects were found in the activation of mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathways. Uro-A lowered c-Jun N-terminal kinase phosphorylation state, and both Uro inhibited p38 activation. No metabolites derived from Uro or EA were found in the cell media upon incubation of EA or Uro with the cells, and only traces of the compounds were found inside the cells. The present results suggest that Uro, mainly Uro-A, are the main compounds that are responsible for the pomegranate anti-inflammatory properties. The mechanism of action implicated seems to be via the inhibition of activation of NF-κB and MAPK, down-regulation of COX-2 and mPGES-1 expressions, and consequently,via the reduction of PGE2 production. Taking into account that Uro did not enter the cells, a competitive binding for IL-1β membrane receptor cannot be discarded.

(Received August 18 2009)

(Revised February 11 2010)

(Accepted February 12 2010)

(Online publication March 26 2010)