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Sulforaphane is a bioactive compound derived from certain cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and broccoli sprouts. It exerts potent anti-inflammatory properties and switches on the activity of a vast array of cellular protective proteins. A new study in mice demonstrates that sulforaphane inhibits activation of the NLRP3 inflammasome in mice microglia cells via inhibition of the NF-kB pathway and altered gene expression.

Inflammasomes are large, intracellular complexes that detect and respond to internal and external threats. Activation of inflammasomes has been implicated in a host of inflammatory disorders. The NLRP3 inflammasome in particular triggers the release of proinflammatory cytokines interleukin-1 beta (IL-1β) and IL-18 and drives pyroptosis, a form of cell death that is triggered by proinflammatory signals and closely linked with inflammation.

Microglia are the brain’s resident immune cells. They serve an essential role in maintaining brain microenvironment homeostasis. Acute activation of microglia modulates inflammation and neurotoxicity, but chronic activation promotes brain inflammation and damage.

NF-kB is a family of proteins present in mammalian cells. NF-kB influences several aspects of the body’s stress response via its participation in signaling pathways that drive pro-inflammatory processes, ultimately regulating DNA transcription, cytokine production, cell survival, and immune function.

The authors of the study triggered the activity of the NLRP3 inflammasome in mice microglia cells that had been treated with or without sulforaphane. Then they assessed the level of pyroptosis in the cells, measured expression of IL-1β and IL-18, and tracked the activity of NF-kB. They also measured the cells' mitochondrial production of reactive oxygen species and mitochondrial membrane integrity. The cells treated with sulforaphane showed less pyroptosis, reduced expression of IL-1β and IL-18, and impaired NF-kB activity than the untreated cells. Sulforaphane also reduced reactive oxygen species production and helped maintain mitochondrial membrane integrity.

These findings suggest that sulforaphane protects the brain via inhibition of the NF-kB pathway and subsequent inhibition of the NLRP3 inflammasome.

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