Echinacea is a top-selling herbal remedy that purportedly acts as an immunostimulant. However, the specific immunomodulatory effects of Echinacea remain to be elucidated. We focused on defining the effects of Echinacea purpurea extracts in dendritic cells (DCs), which generate innate and adaptive immune responses. We hypothesized that E. purpurea extracts would enhance murine bone marrow-derived DC (BMDC) activation leading to increased immune responses. The fate and function of DCs from C57Bl/6 mice was evaluated following 48h exposure to E. purpurea root and leaf extracts. Flow cytometry revealed that the polysaccharide-rich root extract increased the expression of MHC class II, CD86, and CD54 surface biomarkers whereas the alkylamide-rich leaf extract inhibited expression of these molecules. Production of IL-6 and TNF-α increased in a concentration-dependent manner with exposure to the root, but not leaf, extract. In contrast, the leaf but not root extract inhibited the enzymatic activity of cyclooxygenase-2. While both extracts decreased the uptake of ovalbumin by BMDCs, the leaf but not root extract inhibited the antigen-specific activation of naïve CD4+T cells from OT II/Thy1.1 mice. Collectively, these results suggest that E. purpurea can be immunostimulatory, immunosuppressive, and/or anti-inflammatory depending on the portion of the plant and extraction method. © 2010 Elsevier Ltd.
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