A recent study, funded in part by the National Psoriasis Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, discovered that a natural molecule known as methoxyluteolin can block a type of immune cell called mast cells from launching an inflammatory response.
Mast cells are the “universal alarm cell” that starts the inflammatory cascade leading to psoriasis, according to Dr. Theoharis Theoharides, a researcher at Tufts University a co-author of the upcoming Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology study.
They can be triggered by infection, allergens, environmental factors like pollution, or even emotional stress. Once that happens, Theoharides explained, mast cells set into motion a series of inflammatory reactions, including the activation of immune cells and the release of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), a pro-inflammatory protein, or cytokine, involved in psoriatic disease.
Not only are mast cells the source for most TNF-alpha in the body, Theoharides said, it also is the only kind of cell that stores ready-made TNF-alpha that can be released in seconds.
He and his colleagues first identified another natural molecule called luteolin, found in chamomile and artichokes, that could block mast cells. But then they discovered that methoxyluteolin, a different version of luteolin found in Thai black ginger, was an even more potent mast cell blocker.
Through a series of experiments, they found that both luteolin and methoxyluteolin inhibited the ability of mast cells to start inflammation, and could even block inflammation when given before a trigger sets mast cells into action, as reported in the study.
But in addition to being more powerful, methoxyluteolin had two other advantages, Theoharides said. It could be easily absorbed by the skin, and it had no color—two attributes that are important for a topical treatment.