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Betulinic acid enhances the antioxidant profile in a hyperglycaemic model.

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Type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) is a global pandemic, with prevalence rapidly rising in South Africa. T2DM is characterized by insulin resistance, leading to hyperglycaemia which induces oxidative stress (OS) and inflammation with subsequent complications. Betulinic acid (BA), a ubiquitous plant triterpenoid, has many proven benefits including antioxidant (AO) properties. Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ (PPARγ) is a nuclear receptor which binds to triterpenes and promotes glucose uptake and stimulates cytoprotective and anti-inflammatory effects. This study investigated the potential of BA to modulate cytoprotective responses through PPARγ in response to hyperglycaemic (HG) induced OS in a human hepatoma (HepG2) liver cell model. HepG2 cells were cultured under normoglycaemic (NG) and HG conditions and subsequently treated with 5μM and 10μM BA. Spectrophotometric [3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyl tetrazolium bromide (MTT) and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) assays] and luminescent (ATP assay) principles were employed to assess viability of the chosen BA concentrations. Phosphorylation of the insulin receptor β-subunit (IRβ) was assessed via Western blot to confirm BA’s anti-HG effects. Intracellular reactive oxygen species (ROS) levels were assessed via fluorescence using the 2′,7′-dichlorodihydrofluorescein-diacetate (H2DCF-DA) assay, and oxidative stress biomarkers were quantified spectrophotometrically, via use of the thiobarbituric acid reactive substances (TBARS) assay for lipid peroxidation, and protein carbonyl assay (PCA). Intracellular AO potential was measured via luminometric quantification of reduced glutathione (GSH). Western blots quantifying protein expression of PPARγ, nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor2 (NRF2), phosphorylated NRF2 (pNRF2), sirtuin3 (SIRT3), PPARγ coactivator 1α (PGC1α), superoxide dismutase 2 (SOD2), catalase (CAT), uncoupling protein 2 (UCP2), lon protease (LONP1) and nuclear factor κ-B (NFκB) as well as quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCRs) assessing gene expression of glutathione peroxidase (GPx1), NRF2, SIRT3, PGC1α and micro-RNA 124 (miR124) were run to elucidate the molecular mechanism behind the cytoprotective response of BA. The MTT, ATP and LDH assays confirmed cell viability, lack of toxicity and stable energy output, while TBARS, DCF and PCA confirmed a reduction of ROS and its biomarkers. A preliminary Western blot of IRβ confirmed BA’s anti-hyperglycaemic actions at a prime concentration of 5μM BA. Further, Western blots also confirmed an AO-induced protective mechanism at 5μM BA originating from the PPARγ/NRF2 positive feedback loop, further involving SIRT3 (p<0.0001), PGC1α (p=0.0025), LONP1 (p<0.0001), and AOs: SOD2 (p<0.0001), CAT (p=0.0003) and UCP2 (p<0.0001). The GSH assay and mRNA levels of PGC1α (p<0.0001), NRF2 (p<0.0001), SIRT3 (p<0.0001) and GPx1 (p<0.0001) further confirmed the mechanism, while miR124 levels (p=0.0093) hinted at epigenetic regulation between the transcription factors. Additionally, BA was found to downregulate NFκB (p<0.0001) in the HG state possibly combatting ROS-induced inflammation. In conclusion, BA illustrated cytoprotective effects on HG induced OS at an optimum concentration of 5μM, by upregulating the AO response and reducing ROS. Thus, BA may be considered an alternate and cheap adjunctive therapy to mitigate complications of T2DM.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.