International immunopharmacology

The T-cell suppressive effect of bufadienolides: structural requirements for their immunoregulatory activity.

PMID 11367509


Many studies indicate that substances similar to cardenolides and bufadienolides naturally occur in mammals. The majority of previous studies focused on their cardiovascular, renal, and central nervous action. We analyzed the immunoregulatory property of 52 bufadienolides. Human T-cells were stimulated "in vitro" with mitogens or alloantigens in the presence of bufadienolides. The most active compound totally inhibited T-cell activity at a concentration of 0.75 pmol/10(5) cells. This effect is 16,384 x stronger than that of cortisol and 256 x stronger than that of cyclosporin A or tacrolimus. Preactivated T cells were downregulated and, most importantly, suppressed viable T cells could not be restimulated. Lack of the 17 beta-lactone ring dramatically reduced the activity of bufadienolides. Substitution at C3 also affected their function: components with a 3-OH group were up to 1000 x stronger than those without. The replacement of 14 beta-OH with an epoxy-group slightly decreased the activity. Because there is evidence that the latter change abolishes the cardiac activity, this finding is relevant for therapeutic applications in which immunosuppression without the risk of cardiotoxicity is attempted. One of the substances analyzed in this study was Proscillaridin A. A similar bufadienolide occurs naturally in mammals. We speculate that bufadienolides represent an important bioregulatory link between the cardiovascular, nervous and immune systems.