Facilitated uptake of a bioactive metabolite of maritime pine bark extract (pycnogenol) into human erythrocytes.

Research paper by Max M Kurlbaum, Melanie M Mülek, Petra P Högger

Indexed on: 07 May '13Published on: 07 May '13Published in: PloS one


Many plant secondary metabolites exhibit some degree of biological activity in humans. It is a common observation that individual plant-derived compounds in vivo are present in the nanomolar concentration range at which they usually fail to display measurable activity in vitro. While it is debatable that compounds detected in plasma are not the key effectors of bioactivity, an alternative hypothesis may take into consideration that measurable concentrations also reside in compartments other than plasma. We analysed the binding of constituents and the metabolite δ-(3,4-dihydroxy-phenyl)-γ-valerolactone (M1), that had been previously detected in plasma samples of human consumers of pine bark extract Pycnogenol, to human erythrocytes. We found that caffeic acid, taxifolin, and ferulic acid passively bind to red blood cells, but only the bioactive metabolite M1 revealed pronounced accumulation. The partitioning of M1 into erythrocytes was significantly diminished at higher concentrations of M1 and in the presence of glucose, suggesting a facilitated transport of M1 via GLUT-1 transporter. This concept was further supported by structural similarities between the natural substrate α-D-glucose and the S-isomer of M1. After cellular uptake, M1 underwent further metabolism by conjugation with glutathione. We present strong indication for a transporter-mediated accumulation of a flavonoid metabolite in human erythrocytes and subsequent formation of a novel glutathione adduct. The physiologic role of the adduct remains to be elucidated.