Chicago project highlights effects of an ancient Chinese cardio remedy

University of Chicago's Mahesh Gupta

Armed with NIH funding, a group of investigators at the University of Chicago Medical Center have been studying the positive effects of an ancient Chinese remedy derived from magnolia tree bark, which may have potential in guarding against heart disease.

The team of investigators say that honokiol works by activating SIRT3, a protein in the sometimes controversial sirtuin family that has been linked to stress reduction and anti-aging effects. By injecting honokiol in mice, the scientists say that the remedy triggered a slate of events, from reducing the excessive growth of cardiac muscle cells to slowing fibrosis and a stiffening of the muscle cells. And it appeared to help reverse cardiac hypertrophy.

"Honokiol, by increasing SIRT3 levels, effectively blocked both the induction and progression of cardiac hypertrophy in mice," said study author Mahesh Gupta, PhD, director of the Cardiac Cell Biology Research Program at the University of Chicago. "It even mitigated pre-existing cardiac hypertrophy. This has the potential to play a significant role in the prevention and treatment of heart failure."

"To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report to describe a pharmacologic activator of SIRT3," he added. "Until now, caloric restriction combined with endurance exercise has been the only way to boost SIRT3 levels. Very few people have been able to follow such a rigorous regimen."

According to the investigators, SIRT3 tends to decline in people as they grow older. And this old remedy binds directly to SIRT3, apparently revving up its activity.

"We are tremendously excited," Gupta said. "We are working to design a clinical trial involving patients with cardiac hypertrophy and potentially other metabolic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes."

Ancient Chinese herbal remedies have been getting an increasing amount of attention in the pharma R&D industry. GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), for example, created a special drug development group devoted to the field a few years ago. GlaxoSmithKline also paid $720 million for the anti-aging biotech Sirtris, which was engaged in preclinical work on resveratrol, which activated SIRT1. That work, though, has yet to make it very far in the clinic.

Their work was published in the April 14 issue of Nature Communications.

- here's the release
- read the research abstract