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Gelsemium sempervirens effects in vitro: A bridge between homeopathy and molecular biology?


Debora Olioso, Marta Marzotto, Clara Bonafini, Paolo Bellavite
Department of Pathology and Diagnostics, University of Verona

Recent studies conducted in human/animal cells
suggested that homeopathic remedies may have an
effect on the gene regulation, initiating a cascade of gene
actions to correct the disorder or disease at a cellular
level. We have focused our attention on the possible
gene modulation effect of
Gelsemium sempervirens
, a
traditional medicinal plant employed in phytotheraphy
and homeopathy as a nervous system relaxant to treat
various types of anxiety, pain, headache and other
ailments. Previous investigations in our laboratory
shown a significant anxiolytic-like activity of
. high dilutions in mice emotional models. To follow
up on the above evidence, we further investigated the
Gelsemium s
. mechanism of action in
models in order to asses the effects of a wide range of
drug dilutions on whole genome expression
. For this
gene expression study we used sensitive microarray
and real-time PCR techniques, able to survey the whole
human transcriptome and specific genes of interest
respectively. In our case the high-throughput microarray
analysis assisted by bioinformatics could provide a strong
clue as to the mechanism of action and the biological
relevance of ultra-low doses, whereas the real-time PCR
was useful in order to validate the microarray data and to
further investigate a narrow group of genes, i.e. a panel
of human neurotransmitter receptors and regulators,
involved in neuronal excitatory signaling. To further
investigate the possible mechanisms of gene regulation,
we also analysed the possible effect of
Gelsemium s.
the methylation status of a group of genes involved in
mental disorders.
The chief innovation in our experimental design is that
it employs a wide range of doses/dilutions: from low
dilutions (2c or 3c), where the active substances can still
be expected to exert their normal pharmaceutical action,
to high dilutions (9c or 30c), where the most controversial
principles of high dilution pharmacology come into play.
We think that this type of investigation may be useful to
start building a bridge between the more subjective point
of view of symptomatology – basis of the homeopathic
remedy choice – and a more accurate and objective
one, consisting in the identification of specific molecular
markers related with the disease and the prescribed

Experimental setup
Global changes in gene expression produced by exposure
to high dilutions of
Gelsemium s
. extracts in human
neuroblastoma cells were investigated by and real-time
PCR techniques; the methylation analysis was conducted
with a PCR Array.
Cells were incubated for 24h with the 6 dilutions of
Gelsemium s.: 2c, 3c, 4c, 5c, 9c and 30c, produced by
Boiron Laboratoires, according to the French Homeopathic
Pharmacopoeia. Four replicate experiments were carried
out under identical conditions.

Using microarray analysis, we observed that the
diluted drug
Gelsemium s
. 2c significantly modulates
the expression of 56 genes (49 were downregulated
and 7 upregulated) involved in neuronal functions
(G-protein coupled receptor signalling pathways, calcium
homeostasis, inflammatory response and neuropeptide
receptors). The expression of these genes also decreased
significantly, although with small changes, after treatment
with medium dilution (3c, 4c and 5c) and high dilutions of
Gelsemium s
9c and 30c.
In the study conducted using the real-time PCR technique
(RT-PCR Array)
exposure of a human neurocyte cell-line
Gelsemium s
. 2c dilution, containing the active principle
gelsemine, induced a down-regulation of most genes
of this array. In particular, the treated cells showed a
statistically significant down-regulation of the prokineticin
receptor 2, whose ligand is a neuropeptide involved in
nociception (ability to sense pain), and in depression-
like behavior. In the latter study, the 9c dilution was not
active. The difference between the two gene-expression
is probably due to technical factors: while real-
time PCR is the “gold standard” for gene expression
analysis of specific genes or small groups of genes,
microarray is a powerful screening method for the whole
genome and in our conditions exhibited higher sensitivity,
detecting extremely low dose effects.
In the epigenetic study the
Gelsemium s
. 2c treatment
induced an increased methylation of the homeobox A1
gene (HOXA1), which has a role in neural development
and autism spectrum disorders. The mean methylation
frequency after treatment with
Gelsemium s
. 2c was
53% compared to 28% for the controls (p=0.008).
The increased level of methylation could indicate a
reduced gene expression of this autism related gene.
The results of this study, conducted with three different
techniques, provided evidence that
Gelsemium s
. exerts
a prevalently inhibitory effect on a series of genes across
a wide dose-range. The results suggest the extreme
sensitivity of human gene expression to regulation by
ultra-low doses and high dilutions/dynamizations of a
plant remedy and encourage further efforts in research
on this field. Studies using sensitive genetic approaches
may be particularly suitable for surveing of the effects of
highly diluted natural compounds and for the identification
of specific molecular markers related with the disease.
Experimental work was supported by grants from
Boiron Laboratoires to Verona University – Department
of Pathology and Diagnostics and from Italian Research
Ministry. The authors have no conflicts of interest.

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