Myrrh exerts barrier-stabilising and -protective effects in HT-29/B6 and Caco-2 intestinal epithelial cells

  • Rita RosenthalEmail author
  • Julia Luettig
  • Nina A. Hering
  • Susanne M. Krug
  • Uwe Albrecht
  • Michael Fromm
  • Jörg-Dieter Schulzke
Original Article



Myrrh, the oleo-gum resin of Commiphora molmol, is well known for its anti-inflammatory properties. In different animal models, it protected against DSS-, TNBS- and oxazolone-induced colitis. To date, no information concerning the effect of myrrh on barrier properties are available. Thus, this study investigates the effect of myrrh on paracellular barrier function in the absence or presence of the pro-inflammatory cytokine TNFα.


Monolayers of human colon cell lines HT-29/B6 and Caco-2 were incubated with myrrh under control conditions or after challenge with the pro-inflammatory cytokine TNFα. Barrier function was analysed by electrophysiological and permeability measurements, Western blotting, immunostaining in combination with confocal microscopy, and freeze-fracture electron microscopy.


In Caco-2 cells, myrrh induced an increase in transepithelial resistance (TER) which was associated with downregulation of the channel-forming tight junction (TJ) protein claudin-2 via inhibition of the PI3 kinase signalling pathway. In HT-29/B6 cells, myrrh had no effect on barrier properties under basic conditions, but protected against barrier damage induced by TNFα, as indicated by a decrease in TER and an increase in fluorescein permeability. The TNFα effect was associated with a redistribution of the sealing TJ protein claudin-1, an increase in the expression of claudin-2 and a change in TJ ultrastructure. Most importantly, all TNFα effects were inhibited by myrrh. The effect of myrrh on claudin-2 expression in this cell line was mediated via inhibition of the STAT6 pathway.


This study shows for the first time that myrrh exerts barrier-stabilising and TNFα-antagonising effects in human intestinal epithelial cell models via inhibition of PI3K and STAT6 signalling. This suggests therapeutic application of myrrh in intestinal diseases associated with barrier defects and inflammation.


Myrrh TNFα Tight junction Sealing claudin-1 Channel-forming claudin-2 Paracellular permeability 



The superb technical assistance of Britta Jebautzke and In-Fah Lee is gratefully acknowledged. The authors thank Dr. Domenica Hamisch for carefully proofreading our manuscript and valuable comments and suggestions.

Compliance with ethical standards


This study was supported by grants from Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (FOR 721), Sonnenfeld-Stiftung Berlin and Repha GmbH (Hannover, Germany). Myrrh was provided by Repha GmbH.

Conflict of interest

R.R., J.L., N.A.H., S.M.K., U.A., M.F. and J.D.S. declare that they have no competing interests.

Supplementary material

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Table S1 (PDF 76 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rita Rosenthal
    • 1
    Email author
  • Julia Luettig
    • 1
  • Nina A. Hering
    • 2
  • Susanne M. Krug
    • 1
  • Uwe Albrecht
    • 3
  • Michael Fromm
    • 1
  • Jörg-Dieter Schulzke
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Gastroenterology, Rheumatology and Infectious Diseases, Section Nutritional Medicine/Clinical PhysiologyCharitéBerlinGermany
  2. 2.Department of General, Visceral and Vascular SurgeryCharitéBerlinGermany
  3. 3.Mediconomics GmbHHannoverGermany

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