In the present study artemisinin (ART) was found to have potent anti-inflammatory effects in animal models of sepsis induced by CpG-containing oligodeoxy-nucleotides (CpG ODN), lipopolysaccharide (LPS), heat-killed Escherichia coli 35218 or live E. coli. Furthermore, we found that ART protected mice from a lethal challenge by CpG ODN, LPS, or heat-killed E. coli in a dose-dependent manner and that the protection was related to a reduction in serum tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α). More significantly, the administration of ART together with ampicillin or unasyn (a complex of ampicillin and sulbactam) decreased mortality from 100 to 66.7% or 33.3%, respectively, in mice subjected to a lethal live E. coli challenge. Together with the observation that ART alone does not inhibit bacterial growth, this result suggests that ART protection is achieved as a result of its anti-inflammatory activity rather than an antimicrobial effect. In RAW264.7 cells, pretreatment with ART potently inhibited TNF-α and interleukin-6 release induced by CpG ODN, LPS, or heat-killed E. coli in a dose- and time-dependent manner. Experiments utilizing affinity sensor technology revealed no direct binding of ART with CpG ODN or LPS. Flow cytometry further showed that ART did not alter binding of CpG ODN to cell surfaces or the internalization of CpG ODN. In addition, upregulated levels of TLR9 and TLR4 mRNA were not attenuated by ART treatment. ART treatment did, however, block the NF-κB activation induced by CpG ODN, LPS, or heat-killed E. coli. These findings provide compelling evidence that ART may be an important potential drug for sepsis treatment
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