Molecular Mechanisms of Hypertensive Folk Medicines Identified

Molecular Mechanisms of Hypertensive Folk Medicines Identified

Botanical medicines have been used for tens of thousands of years as a treatment for specific ailments such as high blood pressure, although the mechanisms by which these plant extracts have therapeutic effects is not well understood. Now a team of researchers at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) has identified how certain plant extracts help to lower blood pressure.

DNA research has shown that plants were consumed by humans for medicinal reasons going back some 48,000 years. Evidence from archaeological studies suggest plants were used for non-food uses by Homo erectus and similar species for at least 800,000 years. While the scientific evidence for the effectiveness of these plant extracts ranges is scant in many instances, some compounds have been shown to be effective at treating certain conditions ion clinical trials, yet the mechanisms involved in their therapeutic effects are not known.

The UCI study was focused on plant extracts that have been used to treat hypertension. While these plants come from genetically-diverse species, they were all found to activate a specific potassium channel in blood vessels – KCNQ5 – which is expressed, along with others such as KCNQ1 and KCNQ4, in smooth muscle cells. When the KCNQ5 channel is activated, the blood vessels relax which lowers blood pressure. The researchers found hypertensive plant extracts activated the KCNQ5 channel whereas non-hypertensive plant extracts did not.

The most efficient plant extracts for KCNQ5 channel activation were found to be lavender, chamomile, and fennel seed extract.

Currently, there are no drugs in use that target the KCNQ5 channel. These natural KCNQ5-selective potassium channel openers could potentially be used to develop new therapies for hypertension and KCNQ5 loss-of-function encephalopathy, suggest the researchers.

The study is detailed in the paper – KCNQ5 activation is a unifying molecular mechanism shared by genetically and culturally diverse botanical hypotensive folk medicines – was recently published in the journal PNAS. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1907511116

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