BACKGROUND/AIMS: We previously demonstrated that anthocyanin-rich bilberry extract (ARBE) inhibits IFN-γ-induced signalling and downstream effects in human monocytic cells and ameliorates disease activity in ulcerative colitis (UC) patients. Here, we studied the molecular mechanisms of ARBE-mediated effects in vitro and by analysing colonic tissue and serum samples of UC patients treated with an oral anthocyanin-rich bilberry preparation during an open label clinical trial.
METHODS: Colon specimens obtained during an open pilot study using ARBE for the treatment of mild-to-moderate UC were analyzed by immunohistochemistry. Cytokine levels in patients' serum were quantified by ELISA. Cell culture experiments were performed using THP-1 monocytic cells.
RESULTS: ARBE treatment inhibited the expression of IFN-γ-receptor 2 in human THP-1 monocytic cells. Colon biopsies of UC patients who responded to the 6-week long ARBE treatment revealed reduced amounts of the pro-inflammatory cytokines IFN-γ and TNF-α. Levels of phosphorylated (activated) p65-NF-κB were reduced in these patients. Further, patients with successful ARBE treatment featured enhanced levels of Th17-cell specific cytokine IL-22 and immunoregulatory cytokine IL-10 as well as reduced serum levels of TNF-α and MCP-1, but enhanced levels of IL-17A, in contrast to patients that did not reach remission after ARBE treatment.
CONCLUSIONS: Our data suggest a molecular mechanism underlying the anti-inflammatory effects of ARBE treatment in UC patients by modulating T-cell cytokine signalling and inhibiting IFN-γ signal transduction. These data are of particular interest, since ARBE is a promising therapeutic approach for the treatment of IBD.