Since aesculin, 6,7-dihydroxycoumarin-6-O-β-glucopyranoside, suppresses inflammation, we asked whether its anti-inflammatory activity is associated with the activation of nuclear factor-E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2), a key anti-inflammatory factor. Our results, however, show that aesculin marginally activated Nrf2. Since glycosylation can enhance the function of a compound, we then asked whether adding a glucose makes aesculin activate Nrf2. Our results show that the glycosylated aesculin, 3-O-β-d-glycosyl aesculin, robustly activated Nrf2, inducing the expression of Nrf2-dependent genes, such as heme oxygenase-1, glutamate-cysteine ligase catalytic subunit, and NAD(P)H quinone oxidoreductase 1 in macrophages. Mechanistically, 3-O-β-d-glycosyl aesculin suppressed ubiquitination of Nrf2, retarding degradation of Nrf2. Unlike aesculin, 3-O-β-d-glycosyl aesculin significantly suppressed neutrophilic lung inflammation, a hallmark of acute lung injury (ALI), in mice, which was not recapitulated in Nrf2 knockout mice, suggesting that the anti-inflammatory function of the compound largely acts through Nrf2. In a mouse model of sepsis, a major cause of ALI, 3-O-β-d-glycosyl aesculin significantly enhanced the survival of mice, compared with aesculin. Together, these results show that glycosylation could confer the ability to activate Nrf2 on aesculin, enhancing the anti-inflammatory function of aesculin. These results suggest that glycosylation can be a way to improve or alter the function of aesculin.
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