Hawthorn Berry Compounds Boost Immune Cells' Defense Signals

Jenn Hoskins
17th March, 2024

Hawthorn Berry Compounds Boost Immune Cells' Defense Signals

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • A study from China found a hawthorn fruit extract boosts immune cell activity
  • The extract, AF2, increases important immune signals, aiding inflammation control
  • AF2 works by activating a specific immune pathway via a cell surface receptor
In recent years, the quest for natural compounds that can enhance the body's immune response has become increasingly important, especially in the context of rising antibiotic resistance and the need for supportive therapies in various diseases. A new study from China Agricultural University[1] has shed light on the immunostimulatory effects of hawthorn fruit polysaccharides (HFP), a natural substance derived from the hawthorn plant, which is commonly used in traditional medicine and as a dietary supplement. Hawthorn has been recognized for its health benefits, including its potential to prevent inflammation in the gut, as seen in previous research[2]. However, the specific components and mechanisms responsible for these effects were not fully understood until now. The latest research has identified two fractions of hawthorn polysaccharides, AF1-2 and AF2, and examined their structural features and effects on immune cells known as macrophages. Macrophages are a type of white blood cell that play a crucial role in the immune system by engulfing and digesting foreign particles, bacteria, and dead or dying cells. Their activation is a key step in mounting an effective immune response. The study discovered that the AF2 fraction of HFP significantly increased the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines—signaling proteins that modulate the immune response—such as interleukin-1β (IL-1β), interleukin-6 (IL-6), and tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α). These cytokines are vital for the defense against infections and in the regulation of inflammation. Interestingly, the AF2 fraction was found to activate the nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-κB) signaling pathway, a critical pathway in the immune response that controls the transcription of DNA, cytokine production, and cell survival. The activation of this pathway by AF2 was attributed to its interaction with toll-like receptor-4 (TLR4) on the surface of macrophages. TLR4 is known for recognizing pathogens and initiating the appropriate immune response, and the study indicates that AF2 binds to TLR4, triggering downstream effects that enhance the immune response. These findings align with earlier research[3] that suggested pectin-derived oligosaccharides, which are similar in structure to the HFP fractions studied, could stimulate macrophage activation through the TLR4 signaling pathway. Furthermore, another study[4] reported that a specific galactose- and arabinose-rich polysaccharide activated macrophages via a different receptor, TLR2, highlighting the diverse ways polysaccharides can modulate the immune system. The China Agricultural University study expands upon these earlier findings by providing a clearer picture of how specific structural features of polysaccharides can influence their immunomodulatory properties. Both AF1-2 and AF2 were shown to have pectic-like structural features rich in galacturonic acid, with AF2 demonstrating superior proinflammatory effects. The implications of this research are significant for the development of functional foods and natural health products. With the identification of AF2 as a potent immunomodulator, there is potential for its use in dietary supplements aimed at boosting the immune system or as an adjunctive treatment to improve outcomes in diseases where the immune response is a factor. Moreover, the study also contributes to a broader understanding of how dietary components can influence gut health and the immune system. The alteration of gut microbiota composition, as observed in the previous study with hawthorn[2], and the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) could be an additional mechanism by which hawthorn polysaccharides exert their beneficial effects. In conclusion, the research from China Agricultural University has not only identified a promising natural immunomodulator in the form of HFP but also contributed to the understanding of the complex interactions between dietary polysaccharides and the immune system. These insights pave the way for future studies and the development of new therapies that harness the power of natural compounds to support human health.



Main Study

1) Hawthorn Fruit (Crataegus spp.) Polysaccharides Exhibit Immunomodulatory Activity on Macrophages via TLR4/NF-κB Signaling Activation.

Published 15th March, 2024


Related Studies

2) Crataegus pinnatifida polysaccharide alleviates colitis via modulation of gut microbiota and SCFAs metabolism.


3) Influence of glycosyl composition on the immunological activity of pectin and pectin-derived oligosaccharide.


4) Structures and immunomodulatory activity of one galactose- and arabinose-rich polysaccharide from Sambucus adnata.


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