Lithospermum erythrorhizon y alkanna tinctoria are plants used in traditional medicine in Europe and Asia in the form of ointments to heal ulcers. A recent study has described the effect of shikonin, the active principle of these plants, in an experimental model of inflammation.

The results, published in the magazine Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, show that shikonin has an analgesic and anti-inflammatory effect, which makes it a new candidate for pain pharmacotherapy.

José Gómez, professor of the Department of Biology and Geology, Physics and Inorganic Chemistry of the URJC, has participated in this work, and has been led by professors David Vega-Avelaira and Daniela Grassi, of the Department of Anatomy, Histology and Neuroscience of the University Autonomous of Madrid (UAM). Researchers from the Complutense and European Universities of Madrid have also formed part of the team.

pain and shikonin

Pain secondary to inflammatory processes is one of the most widespread forms of chronic pain. Today it is thought that this pain could result in part from a direct effect of the immune system on the neurons of the central nervous system.

In the work, the authors study the analgesic effect and the structural changes in the spinal cord produced by the anti-inflammatory agent shikonin in an experimental model of inflammation.

Shikonin is a small molecule (naphthoquinone) obtained from boraginaceae plants used in traditional medicine, which has anti-inflammatory capacity due to its cytokine inhibitory effect.

The study, carried out in rats, showed that shikonin greatly reduces the sensation of pain and that this effect is associated with an inhibition of the activity of microglia in the spinal cord.

Image: Inhibitory effect of shikonin on spinal cord microglia.
A) The micrographs show how inflammation (CFA+veh) induce changes in microglia activation, reflected in structural changes such as increased cell volume. Shikonin administration reverses these changes (CFA+Shik) and microglia are maintained at basal levels.
B) Indicates the quantification of the microglia population, the data reflect that inflammation does not induce an increase in the number of microglial cells but rather in their size; while the administration of shikonin reverses these changes.

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