The Verbenaceae, commonly known as the verbena or vervain family, is composed of 35 genera containing around 1200 species [1
]. They have been used for centuries as medicinal plants due to their beneficial effects to cure several ailments. One of the most important genera is Lippia
, consisting of200 species exerting interesting biological activities [2
]. Lippia citriodora
K., also referred to as Aloysiatriphylla
(L’Herit.), is commonly named lemon verbena, vervain or Louisa (Arabic). This species is native to South America and has been cultivated in Europe and North Africa mainly in Morocco [3
]. All over Morocco, the plant is used as relaxant and sedative [4
]. The herbal tea is traditionally used to alleviate insomnia and restlessness in adults as well as babies [5
]. Furthermore, it has been used for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antispasmodic effects and also used as a remedy for gastrointestinal disorders [2
]. Recent studies have confirmed the antioxidant and spasmolytic activities of the infusion prepared of lemon verbena [6
]. Verbena aqueous extract given to rats has proven the hypnotic effect of the plant by promoting sleep [8
]. Polyphenols extracted from lemon verbena reduced the obesity burden and restored the mitochondrial activity through AMPK-dependent pathways [9
Verbascoside (Vs), a major phenypropanoid glycoside, is the most abundant polyphenol in lemon verbena tea and its yield is reported to be around 3.94% (w/w
dry weight of leaves) [10
]. Vs contained in Buddlejia davidii
and Lippia multiflora
has already been proven to possess an antioxidant activity [11
]. Vs has also shown an anti-inflammatory effect in vitro
on macrophages and THP-1 cells [13
]. Furthermore, Vs has been reported to exert an antimicrobial activity against Staphylococcus aureus
and a neuroprotective effect, in vitro, on 1-methyl-4-phenylpyridinum ion-induced toxicity using PC12 cells [15
]. Interestingly, intraperitoneal administration of Vs and lemon verbena aqueous and ethanolic extracts to mice promoted sleep and induced muscle relaxation, alongside alleviation of anxiety [17
]. In addition to Vs, hastatoside (Hs) and verbenalin (Vn) are two abundant iridoids in verbena extract and have been proved to possess sleep-promoting effect [18
]. To date, very little is known about the molecular mechanism by which lemon verbena or its compounds induce relaxation and act as anti-anxiety remedies.
In the present study, we investigated the effect of lemon verbena and Vs in mice and elucidated the molecular mechanisms underlying their effects in brain. Interestingly, the transcriptomic analysis in vivo showed regulation of genes implicated in activation of the mitochondrial function. Therefore, to confirm this finding we evaluated, in vitro, the effect of VEE and Vs on cells’ ATP production using SH-SY5Y, a Human neurotypic cell line. Also, we assessed the toxicity of VEE, Vs, Hs, and Vn, in addition to neuroprotective effect on dexamethasone (Dex) neurotoxicity.
Lemon verbena is a medicinal plant exerting important biological activities such as antidepressant, antioxidant, sleep-promoting and analgesic effects [24
]. The molecular mechanisms underlying these effects are still unknown.
The in vitro study showed an increase of cell viability of VEE-treated cells compared to the non-treated cells, indicating an activation of cellular functionalities. Co-treatment of VEE and Dex enhanced the cell viability significantly compared to the Dex-treated cells. To determine the compound responsible for the effect observed, we treated the cells with the three most abundant compounds in the extract, Vs, Hs and Vn. The viability was enhanced by Vs in comparison to the control, while Hs and Vn were significantly decreased. The effect observed in the case of the extract is probably due to Vs. Also, Vs was tested for its neuroprotective effect and was found to alleviate Dex toxicity by more than 30%. These findings suggest that VEE and Vs have neuroprotective effects.
In the present work, we studied the effect of VEE on mice at the molecular level by analyzing the expression of all genes. We used the TST to induce psychological stress in mice. The TST results showed increase of immobility time of VEE-treated mice compared to both control groups. In 2017, Razavi et al. reported the anti-anxiety and muscle relaxant effects of VEE and Vs in vivo
]. Another study showed induction of relaxation in mice and rats treated with essential oil extracted from the aerial part of verbena [50
]. Accordingly, the aqueous extract of this plant was found to have a sedative effect in rats at high doses (700 and 1000 mg/Kg body weight of extract) [8
]. Then, the increase of immobility time observed in this study may suggest the relaxant and sedative effects of VEE.
The evaluation of the transcriptome in the collected brains showed an enhancement of expression of genes implicated in the production of cAMP in the case of mice treated with VEE. Drd1
expression was increased by VEE, while it remained stable in case of bupropion-treated mice. Previously, the enzymatic activity of Ac
was found to be tightly regulated by Drd1
]. Also, VEE increased the expression of Ac
in mice brains, the enzyme that was down-regulated by Bupropion treatment. Over-expression and activation of Ac
by VEE implies an increase of cAMP generation, which has been associated with the induction of relaxation effect [52
]. Accordingly, the use of apomorphine, a Drd1
agonist, was proved to induce relaxation [53
]. Moreover, treatment with the plant extract increased Prkg1
expression, a gene that has been associated with induction of relaxation [28
VEE affected the expression of genes modulating calcium homeostasis. Itpr2
is one of the intracellular Ca2+
release channels, located in the membranes of endoplasmic and sarcoplasmic reticula. These are organelles are rich in Ca2+
]. VEE up-regulated the expression of Itpr2
, implicating an elevation of the ion in the cytosolic compartment. Ca2+
-cytosolic content depends also on channels facilitating the transport of ion from the extracellular compartment [54
]. One of these channels is Cacna1c
which has been over expressed in VEE-treated mice. A previous study evaluated the transcriptomic changes induced by relaxation in humans and Cacna1c
was found to by over-expressed [54
-induced increase by VEE, up-regulated the expression of Pkc
, an enzyme found to be dependent to Ca2+
concentration in cells, and which activates Ac
inducing an over-production of cAMP [41
]. On the other hand, calcium homeostasis has been already proved to play an important role in muscle movement and walking behavior in humans. At the brain level, the calcium signaling regulates different functions, including signal transmission and also the learning and memory [56
]. When accumulated in cytoplasm, the calcium is transported into mitochondria inducing the activation of enzymes implicated in generation of ATP, including ATP synthase and NADH+
]. The inhibition of the calcium uptake by the mitochondria was found to increase the time needed for relaxation [62
]. Accordingly, an increase of Ca2+
content has been proved to induce ATP production through cAMP generation [63
]. These results suggest that VEE has a relaxant effect on mice through the generation of cAMP, which in addition to high intracellular Ca2+
levels, induces activation of mitochondria.
For VEE-treated mice, Gsn
, and Camk2n1
showed the highest expression levels compared to the set of genes analyzed by microarray, and the increase was more than 2 fold-changes, while mice receiving Bupropion showed a decrease of Ttr
expression, whereas Gsn
expressions were slightly increased (less than 1.5 fold-change). Mutant mice over-expressing Gsn
revealed an enhancement of respiratory chain activity [33
]. Several studies have demonstrated the neuroprotective role of Ttr
], and its positive correlation to mitochondrial function [34
]. These findings proved an increase of mitochondrial activity, implying an over-production of ATP. VEE-treated group presented high level of Camk2n1
expression compared to control group, which implicates a controlled cell proliferation. Previously, a study demonstrated the tumor suppressive effect of Camk2n1
were significantly down-regulated by VEE. Pmch
-deficient mice, as well as Mchr1
-deficient mice, were found to be more active than wild type mice, and showing an increase in metabolic rate [36
]. A specific Mchr1
antagonist has showed antidepressant and anxiolytic effect [37
]. The increase of immobility time of VEE-treated mice is due to the relaxant effect of the plant extract, and the molecular analysis proved its antidepressant effect.
In order to evaluate the effect of lower doses of VEE and their respective Vs contents, a second TST was conducted. The treatments used were 25 and 50 mg/Kg of VEE and 2.5 and 5 mg/Kg of Vs. Interestingly, the results showed a decrease in immobility time compared to the control group, and scores were statistically comparable to bupropion treated mice. Our findings suggest low doses have an antidepressant effect. In accordance with the transcriptomic analysis conducted here above, VEE and Vs might be induced mitochondrial activation through accumulation of cAMP and Ca2+
, to a lesser extent than high dose of VEE, resulting in agitation of mice rather than their relaxation. To prove the antidepressant effect observed in vivo, we evaluated the levels of different depression markers. Sert and NA implication in depression has been documented and are considered as targets of antidepressants [47
]. In our study, VEE and Vs were found to enhance Sert and NA levels demonstrating an antidepressant effect of the treatments on mice.
Previous studies found that antidepressants targeting the expressions of Sert and NA only present limitations. Patients might show movement delay, lack of concentration or even persistence of anhedonia [69
]. Accordingly, drugs acting on the dopaminergic system have been developed. Dopamine is a catecholamine responsible of expression of emotions such as pleasure and motivation, and stimulates concentration [69
]. Hence, we assessed dopamine levels in brains. The results showed a highly significant increase of dopamine expression by VEE and Vs compared to control group. These findings prove the antidepressant activity of VEE and Vs by stimulating the pleasure mechanism.
It has been documented that antidepressants acting on serotonergic and norepinephric mechanisms lead to enhancement of BDNF levels in rodents [70
]. We evaluated the effect of treatments on BDNF in brains. The results showed a highly significant increase of BDNF by VEE and Vs treatments. Also, it has been documented that Ca2+
and cAMP levels regulate BDNF expression through CREB (cAMP response element-binding protein) [72
The results obtained in vivo
revealed the activation of mechanisms responsible for the increase of cytosolic Ca2+
and cAMP generation, messengers inducing the mitochondrial activity. To confirm this hypothesis, we evaluated the effect of VEE on mitochondrial activity. The results showed enhancement of mitochondrial function in a concentration-dependent manner. Accordingly, Vs increased mitochondrial function in a similar tendency as VEE.ATP production in vitro
was evaluated to confirm the effect of VEE and Vs mitochondrial activity. Human neurotypicSH-SY5Y cells treated with VEE showed a significant increase of ATP content in a dose-dependent manner after12h treatment. Energy metabolism gradually decreased to regain the initial state. Vs is one of the most important compounds contained in VEE, and has been proven to induce muscle relaxation in mice [17
]. Next, we evaluated the potential effect of Vs on mitochondrial activity. We observed that Vs-treatment also showed an increase in ATP production at 12h, which restored to its original condition progressively. In 2013, Bhasin et al. evaluated the transcriptomic changes in humans in response to relaxation condition and showed regulation of genes activating energy metabolism [54
]. ATP increase has been found to be regulated positively by activation of mitochondrial calcium uptake, as aresult of different stimuli such as alimentation, hormones and neurotransmitters [61
]. Our in vitro
study showed that VEE and Vs enhanced intracellular calcium levels in a concentration and time-dependent manner with similar tendency as mitochondrial activation. These results proved the increase of calcium and energy metabolism related genes regulated by the treatments in vivo
4. Materials and Methods
4.1. Plant Material and Extraction Method
The leaves of Lippia citriodora were collected in July 2016 from Marrakech Region (Morocco). The species was authenticated by Prof. Ahmed Ouhammou from Cadi Ayyad University, Faculty of Sciences Semlalia, Department of Biology, Marrakech, Morocco. A voucher specimen of plant material (MARK-11186) was deposited in the Herbarium of the same institution. After air drying, the plant material was crushed by a mortar and extracted with ethanol 70%, with a ratio plant material/solvent of 10% (w/v). The extraction was carried out in the dark for 2 weeks and vigorously shacked twice a day. The extract was centrifuged and the supernatant filtered through 0.22 µm Millipore (Mark Millipore, Carrigtwohill, Ireland) and solvent evaporated by a rotary evaporator. The yield of VEE was 13.3%.
Vs, Hs and Vn were purchased from Sigma Aldrich, USA. Dulbecco’s Modified Eagle Medium (DMEM)/F-12 and Opti-MEM were obtained from Gibco, USA. Fetal bovine serum was from Gibco, South America. Penicillin - Streptomycin were purchased from Biowhittaker, USA. Non-essential amino acids were from Cosmo Bio Co, LTD, Japan. MTT (3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide) and dexamethasone were from Dojindo, Japan. Bupropion was from Wako, Japan. ATP bioluminescence kit was from TOYO Ink, Japan. ISOGEN kit was purchased from Nippon Gene, Japan. RIPA lysis buffer was from (Santa Cruz Biotechnology, USA). 2-D Quant was purchased from GE Healthcare Life Sciences, USA. Calcium Kit II-Fluo 4 was from Dojindo, Japan.
4.3. Cell Culture
The in vitro experiments were conducted on SH-SY5Y cells. This neurotypic cell line was obtained from America Type Culture Collection, Manassas, USA. Cells were maintained in Dulbecco’s Modified Eagle Medium (DMEM)/F-12, supplemented with 15% fetal bovine serum, 1% Penicillin (5000 µg/mL) Streptomycin (5000 IU/mL) and 1% of non-essential amino acids. The culture was incubated at 37 °C in a humidified atmosphere of 5% CO2 incubator. Opti-MEM, a reduced serum medium, was used to culture cells for the evaluation of cell viability and intracellular ATP.
4.4. Determination of Cell Viability
3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide (MTT) assay was used to assess cell viability of SH-SY5Y cells. Briefly, the cells were seeded in a 96-well plate (fibronectin-coated plate) (BD BioCoat, New York City, NY, USA) with a density of 2 × 105 cell/mL. After 24 h, the medium was removed and the cells were VEE (0.5, 1, 2.5 and 5 µg/mL), Vs, Hs or Vn (3.1, 31.2 and 62.4 µg/mL) diluted in Opti-MEM. After 72h incubation period, 10 µL MTT (5 mg/mL) mixed with 100 µL of Opti-MEM was added to each well and the plate was incubated for further 6 h. The formazan crystals formed by the mitochondrial activity were solubilized by adding 100 µL of 10 % SDS (w/v). The absorbance was measured at 570 nm using a microtiter plate reader (Dainippon Sumitomo Pharma Co., Ltd., Tokyo, Japan). The results were expressed in percentage of relative cell viability.
To evaluate the neuroprotective effect of VEE, Vs, Hs and Vn, the cells were co-treated with DEX (50 µM), incubated for 72h, then their viability assessed by MTT assay as described above.
Male ICR mice, 3 weeks old, weighting between 20 and 30 g were purchased from Charles River laboratories (Tokyo, Japan). Mice were housed individually and had access to food and water ad libitum, in a controlled environment (56% humidity, 23 °C temperature, 12/12 h light/dark cycle). Before starting the oral administration and the tail suspension test, the mice were allowed to acclimatize for one week. All experiments were performed in strict accordance with NIH guidelines and were approved by the Animal Ethics Committee of the University of Tsukuba, Japan. The ethical approval code is 16-042 (1/06/2016).
4.6. Tail Suspension Test
The animals were divided into three groups. A negative control group receiving Milli-Q water (10 mL/Kg; n = 6), a positive control group treated with 20 mg/Kg of Bupropion (n = 7) and VEE-treated group (n = 7) which received a dose of 100 mg/Kg. The samples were administrated orally every day for 7 days.
The tail suspension test (TST) is a widely used technique to screen the antidepressant effects of drugs. The methodology used in this study is as described by Steru et al., 1985 [77
]. Briefly, the TST was performed 60 min after the administration of treatments. The duration of the test was 6 min and the immobility time was measured on the last 4 min of the test. A mouse was considered immobile only when it is hanged passively, showing no resistance to the stress applied by the test. The experiment was recorded using a camera and scored by observing the videos. After completion of the behavioral test, mice were sacrificed by cerebrospinal dislocation, then the whole brains were collected for the subsequent analysis.
A second TST was conducted to evaluate the effect of lower doses of VEE (25 mg/Kg, n = 6; 50 mg/Kg, n = 7) and their respective Vs content (2.5 mg/Kg, n = 6; 5 mg/Kg body weight, n = 7) on mice. HPLC analysis showed that VEE contains 10% of Vs (data not shown). Other control groups (Milli-Q, n = 6; Bupropion 20 mg/mL, n = 7) were used for the second test. TST was performed according to the protocol previously described.
4.7. DNA Microarray Analysis
The total RNA was extracted from the brain tissues previously collected using ISOGEN kit and quantified by Nanodrop 2000 spectrophotometer (Thermo Fisher scientific, Wilmington, NC, USA).
To elucidate the molecular mechanism underlying the effect of VEE on neuronal activities, we evaluated the total gene expression of brain tissues by performing microarray on RNAs previously extracted. The experiment was conducted according to the Affymetrix Genechip 3’ IVT PLUS reagent kit user’s guide. Briefly, the RNAs were reverse transcripted to generate double stranded DNA. The latter used as a template to synthesize the Biotin-labeled cRNA. After fragmentation of the labeled cRNA, the mixture was hybridized to the Affymetrix mouse 430 PM array strips (Affymetrix) for 16 h at 45 °C in the hybridization station. In Geneatlas Fluidics station, the hybridized arrays were washed and stained, then scanned using Geneatlas imaging station. The total number of genes analyzed by this method is 39,396 genes. All brain samples were analyzed by microarray. The data obtained were analyzed by Expression Console and Pathway Studio software and DAVID and Consensus Path databases.
4.8. Real Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (qRT-PCR)
RNA extracts obtained from mice brains were used as templates to validate the microarray results through evaluation of the expression level of some relevant genes regulated by Verbena treatment. First, a reverse transcription was performed, using the Superscript IV reverse transcriptase kit (Invitrogen, Carlsbad, CA, USA) following the manufacturer’s protocol. Briefly, we incubated a mixture of RNA samples (0.2 µg/µL) and Oligo(dT)12-18/dNTP (0.5 µg/µL; 10 mM) for 5 min at 65 °C, and then placed for 1 min on ice. The Reverse transcriptase solution was added and incubated the samples at 42 °C for 60 min and then 10 min at 60 °C. The cDNA produced is used to evaluate the expression of 3 genes: Gelsolin “Gsn” (Mm00456679_m1), Transthyretin “Ttr” (Mm00443267_m1), Calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II inhibitor 1 “Camk2n1” (Mm01718432_s1) and Inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate receptor type 2 “Itpr2” (Mm00444937_m1). This experiment was conducted using TaqMan Universal PCR mix and TaqMan Probes and the amplifications were performed in a 7500 Fast Real-time PCR (Applied Biosystems, Foster City, CA, USA) with the following conditions: 50 °C for 2 min, followed by 95 °C for 10 min, and 40 cycles of 95 °C for 15 s followed by 60 °C for 1 min.
4.9. Quantification of Neurotransmitters and BDNF
To confirm the antidepressant effect of VEE and Vs at lower doses, we quantified the levels of serotonin (Sert), noradrenaline (NA), dopamine and BDNF in brains. The proteins were measured in the frontal cortex. First we homogenized 100 mg of tissue in 1 mL of RIPA buffer. The homogenate was centrifuged for 5 min at 10,000× g and 4 °C. The supernatant was collected and stored at −80 °C. The dopamine, Sert and NA were quantified using ELISA kits (Immusmol SAS, Talence, France). BDNF was measured by colorimetric sandwich ELISA kit (Proteintech, Rosemont, IL, USA). The experiments were conducted following the manufacturer’s instructions. The results of each treatment group were corrected by their respective total protein content determined using 2-D Quanti kit.
4.10. Measurement of Mitochondrial Activity
Mitochondrial function was measured using rhodamine 123, a fluorescent dye. The protocol was as described previously by Matsukawa et al., 2017 [78
]. Briefly, treated SH-SY5Y were incubated for 20 min at 37 °C after addition of rhodamine 123 (10 µg/mL). Cells were lysed by 1% Triton X-100 and the fluorescence intensity of rhodamine (excitation/emission 485/528 nm) was measured.
4.11. Measurement of the Intracellular ATP Production
The mitochondrial activity was assessed by measuring the intracellular ATP content of cells using ATP bioluminescence kit. Cells were cultured (2 × 105 cell/mL) in a 96-well plate (fibronectin-coated plate) and treated with different concentrations of VEE and Vs for 6, 12, 24, 48 and 72 h. The cells were lysed and the ATP content measured by adding 100 µL of luciferin-luciferase solution. The luminescence was measured using the microtiter plate reader (Dainippon Sumitomo Pharma Co., Ltd., Japan).
4.12. Measurement of Intracellular Calcium Level
Calcium Kit II-Fluo 4 was used to measure intracellular calcium levels of SH-SY5Y. The measurement was conducted according to the manufacturer’s protocol. Briefly, SH-SY5Y cells were seeded in black clear-bottom 96 well plates (Corning, NY, USA) and then treated with loading buffer (5% Pluronic F-127, 250-mmol/L Probenecid and 1-μg/μLFluo 4 AM in Hanks’–HEPES Buffer) for 1 h. The supernatant was removed and cells were washed with PBS. Cells were treated with VEE and Vs as described previously. Fluorescence intensity (excitation/emission 485/528 nm) was measured every 30 min using a Powerscan HT plate reader.
4.13. Statistical Analysis
Results are expressed as means ± SD, and statistical analyses were performed using a Student’s t-test using IBM SPSS Statistics 23 software. Differences were determined statistically significant at a P-value of less than 0.05.