Investigation of the immunosuppressive activity of artemether on T-cell activation and proliferation

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Background and purpose:

Artemisinin and its derivatives exhibit potent immunosuppressive activity. The purpose of the current study was to examine the immunosuppressive activity of artemether directly on T lymphocytes and to explore its potential mode of action.

Experimental approach:

In vitro, T-cell proliferation was measured using [3H]-thymidine incorporation assay in cells stimulated with ConA, alloantigen and anti-CD3 antibody. CFSE-labeled cell division and cell cycle distribution were monitored by flow cytometry. In vivo, the effects of artemether were evaluated in delayed-type hypersensitivity (DTH) and purified T-cell responses to ovalbumin in ovalbumin-immunized mice. The activation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase1/2 (ERK1/2) and Raf1 were assessed by Western blot analysis and the activation of Ras was tested in pull-down assays.

Key results:

We show that, in vitro, artemether suppressed ConA- or alloantigen-induced splenocyte proliferation, influenced production of the cytokines IL-2 and IFN-γ and inhibited cell cycle progression through the G0/G1 transition. In vivo, administration of artemether attenuated CD4 T-cell-mediated DTH reaction, and suppressed antigen-specific T-cell response in immunized mice. Further experiments showed that, treatment with artemether impaired both antigen- and anti-CD3-induced phosphorylation of ERK. In primary T cells, artemether profoundly inhibited anti-CD3-induced phosphorylation of Raf1 and activation of Ras.

Conclusions and implications:

This study provided experimental evidence of the immunosuppressive effects of artemether directly on T cells both in vitro and in vivo. Its immunosuppressive mechanism involved inhibition of the activation of the Ras-Raf1-ERK1/2 protein kinase cascade in T cells.

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