Antiulcerogenic effect of Cuphea ignea extract against ethanol-induced gastric ulcer in rats
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Cuphea ignea is one of the herbal resources belonging to Lythraceae family. Some species of this family have been used traditionally in South and Central America’s folk medicine for treating stomach disorders. Therefore, the present study was performed to evaluate the gastropreventive effect of aqueous ethanolic extract of C. ignea aerial parts on ethanol-induced gastric ulcer.
Gastric ulcers were induced in Sprague Dawley rats using one oral dose of absolute ethanol (1.5 mL/rat). The C. ignea aerial parts extract at doses of 250 and 500 mg/kg body weight and ranitidine (a reference drug) at a dose of 30 mg/kg body weight were orally administrated daily for 7 days before ulcer induction. One hour after ethanol administration blood samples were collected and then stomachs of sacrificed rats were subjected to biochemical, macroscopic and microscopic studies.
Oral administration of C. ignea extract significantly attenuated gastric ulcer as revealed by significant reduction in the gastric ulcer index and volume of gastric juice while significantly increased preventive percentage, gastric pH value and pepsin activity. Pre-treatment of C. ignea extract markedly improved the serum level of TNF-α, the gastric MPO activity and NO content. Furthermore, C. ignea pre-treatment significantly increased the gastric levels of enzymatic and non- enzymatic antioxidants namely CAT, SOD, GSH-Px, and GSH with concomitant reduction in MDA level compared with those in the ethanol group. These results were further supported by histopathological findings which revealed the curing effect of C. ignea on the hemorrhagic shock induced by ethanol toxicity.
C. ignea extract showed a potential gastroprotective effect on ethanol-induced gastric ulcer, and its effect may be mediated through suppression of oxidative stress and gastric inflammation.
KeywordsGastric ulcer Antioxidants Oxidative stress Cuphea ignea Histopathology Phenolic compounds
Serum aspartate transaminase
Hematoxylin and eosin
Reactive oxygen species
Tumor necrosis factor-alpha
Gastric ulcer is a benign lesion with multiple etiologies, associated with an imbalance between gastric protective factors and aggressive physical, chemical or psychological factors on the mucosal epithelium . These aggressive factors include physical stress, prominent tobacco consumption, alcohol or caffeine, certain types of medications, particularly the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and infection by Helicobactor pylori . Among these factors, high alcohol consumption is the greatest cause of gastric mucosal damage . Thus, the experimental model of ethanol-induced gastric ulcer often employed to screen the anti-ulcer compounds .
In spite of the domination of synthetic drugs in managing most of human diseases including gastric ulcer, extensive proportion worldwide now directed to traditional medicine . This may be, in part, due to considerable incidence of side effects, drug interactions, microbial resistance and high cost during chemical therapy . Hence, natural products with wide biological activities, better effectiveness and safe profiles are needed to substitute chemical medications [7, 8]. Consequently, there is extensive require for scientific analysis of herbal products with pharmacological effects to discover alternative bioactive phytocompounds .
Plants of Lythraceae family are regarded as a valuable source of exclusive natural products for developing medications against various diseases . Cuphea, a new world genus, is considered the largest genera of Lythraceae family . Plants of this genus had been used in the Brazilian folk medicine as an oral contraceptive, hypotensive, diuretic, anti-inflammatory, antipyretic and laxative . Some species of this genus have been used for treating stomach disorders, gonorrhea, syphilis and cancer [13, 14].
Cuphea ignea, cigar plant, is a flowering species in genus Cuphea. It is a tropical, densely branched evergreen subshrub produces tubular, bright red to orange flowers resemble a lit cigar, hence its name. C. ignea is native to Mexico and the West Indies; however, in recent years its popularity is on rise everywhere .
So far there are no studies regarding the phytochemistry of C. ignea except Bate-Smith  who studied the flavonoids of some Lythraceae plants and reported the presence of quercetin and kaempferol glycosides in C. ignea plant. Recently, we isolated from this extract a coumarin with a rare structure, namely, 7-hydroxy 3-methoxy coumarin 5-O-β-glucopyranoside, which offered potent antioxidant activities in vitro . To date, there is no report proving the biological activity of C. ignea in vivo. Therefore, the present study was undertaken to evaluate phytochemical constituents of the aqueous ethanolic extract of C. ignea aerial parts and to estimate its gastroprotective effect of C. ignea extract against ethanol induced gastric ulcer in rats.
Plant collection and extract preparation
Fresh samples of C. ignea aerial parts were collected from 30 k north Cairo. Authentication of the plant was carried out by Prof. Dr. Salwa Kawashty at the NRC. A voucher specimen was deposited at the herbarium of the NRC (voucher number C 182).The collected C. ignea plant was dried in the shadow, crushed and exhaustively extracted with 70% (v/v) aqueous EtOH under reflux. The obtained eluent was dried under vacuum at 55–60 °C then dissolved in EtOH. Then, the extract was stored for future use.
Phytochemical analysis of the aqueous ethanolic extract was carried out as described by Sofowora .
Estimation of total phenolic content
Folin-Ciocalteu method  was used to determine total phenolic contents. Briefly, 100 μL of the extract was transferred into a test tube and the volume adjusted to 3.5 mL with distilled water and oxidized with the addition of 250 μL of Folin-Ciocalteau reagent. After 5 min, the mixture was neutralized with 1.25 mL of 20% aqueous sodium carbonate solution. After 40 min, the absorbance was recorded at 725 nm against blank. A previously prepared gallic acid-calibration curve was used to deduce the contents of total phenolics using the equation: y = 0.024x + 0.018 (R2 = 0.998), which represented results as gallic acid equivalents.
Estimation of total flavonoids
Total flavonoid content in the aqueous ethanolic extract of C. ignea plant was determined according to Žilić et al.  using aluminum chloride assay. Briefly, 300 μL of 5% sodium nitrite was mixed with 100 μL of extract. After 6 min, 300 μL of a 10% AlCl3 solution was added and the volume was adjusted to 2.5 mL using distilled water. After 7 min, 1.5 mL of 1 M NaOH was added, followed by centrifugation (5000 g/10 min). Absorbance of the supernatant was measured at 510 nm against the solvent blank. Total flavonoids were estimated using a catachine calibration curve and the equation: y = 0.003x - 0.004 (R2 = 0.998).
Determination of radical scavenging capacity
Reducing power assay
The effect of C. ignea extract on the reduction of ferric cyanide into ferrous cyanide was evaluated according to Yen and Duh . A serial dilution of the extract was performed (400, 300, 200, 100, 50, 25 and 12.5 μg/mL) in 0.2 M phosphate buffer (pH 6.6) containing 1% ferrocyanate. Tubes containing 5 mL of the mixture were incubated (50 °C/20 min), followed by addition of 2.5 mL of 10% TCA (w/v), and then centrifuged (3000 g/10 min). The absorbance of the separated supernatant (mixed with 2.5 mL distilled water containing/1% FeCl3) was measured at 700 nm.
Acute toxicity study
In order to detect the maximal safe dose, Sprague Dawley rat model was used to investigate the effect of C. ignea extract on acute toxicity using OECD 425 guidelines . Thirty rats were randomly divided equally into four groups with each group having 5 rats. Groups 1–3 were orally dosed with varying doses (500; 1000; 3000 and 5000) mg/kg of C. ignea extract. Group 6 was given an equivalent volume of distilled water. Animals were evaluated clinically and toxicologically for 3 days after receiving the extract, while death rates were monitored for 14 days.
Experimental animals and grouping
The experiments were performed on adult female Sprague-Dawley rats (150-200 g) obtained from the animal house colony of the National Research Centre, Dokki, Giza, Egypt. The animals were kept in polypropylene cages with wood shaving under standardized animal house conditions (room temperature: 25 ± 3 °C, 55 ± 5% humidity with 12 h dark/light cycles), fed with standard pellet and allowed free access to water. Distilled water was used for the oral administration of standard drug and plant extracts in all in vivo assays. The animal experiments were conducted according to the international regulations of the usage and welfare of laboratory animals and were approved by the Ethics Committee of the National Research Centre, Cairo, Egypt. Rats were randomized into seven groups (n = 6) as follows: Group 1 (normal control rats); Group 2 (ethanol ulcerated rats); Group 3 (ulcerated rats pretreated with reference drug, 30 mg/kg ranitidine); Group 4 (rats administered only 250 mg/kg of extract); Group 5 (ethanol ulcerated rats pretreated with 250 mg/kg of extract); Group 6 (rats were administered only 500 mg/kg of extract); Group 7 (ethanol ulcerated rats pretreated with 500 mg/kg of extract). Ranitidine and extract treatments were given orally once/day for 7 days before ulcer induction. Groups 4 and 6 were used to evaluate the negative/toxicological effects of the extract. Groups 2, 3, 5 and 7 were supplied only with water for 24 h before ulcer induction. A single gavage of absolute ethanol (1.5 mL/rat) was used to induce gastric ulcer after 24 h fasting according to Liu et al. .
Tissue sampling and collection of blood and gastric juice
One hour after the ulcer induction, animals were anesthetized by 1.9% diethyl ether-saturated cotton ball in a small chamber for 2–5 min., and euthanized by cervical dislocation. Blood samples were collected and centrifuged (3000 rpm/10 min), where clear serum was separated and stored at −20 °C until analysis. In parallel, animal stomachs were rapidly taken away, opened along the greater curvature, where their contents were collected for volume and pH determination. The gastric secretion was stored for estimating pepsin activity. Gastric tissue specimens were thereafter rinsed gently with phosphate buffer saline (PBS) to remove any blood clots and then examined macroscopically to calculate gastric ulcer index . Secondly, each stomach was dichotomized, with one moiety of stomach immersed in 10% formaldehyde for histological examination and the other moiety was homogenized in 0.1 M potassium phosphate buffer, pH 7.4 at a ratio of 1:10 (w/v). The homogenates were centrifuged (3000 rpm/10 min/4°C) using 3-18KS Sigma cooling centrifuge, Germany. Myeloperoxidase (MPO) activity was detected in the obtained pellets, while supernatants were stored at − 80 °C for further biochemical investigations.
Estimation of gastric ulcer index
Estimation of pepsin activity in gastric secretion
Pepsin activity was determined using stop-point assay of denatured hemoglobin hydrolysis .
Biochemical analysis in serum
Serum aspartate transaminase (AST), alanine transaminase (ALT) and alkaline phosphatase (ALP) activities were determined using commercial kits (Spectrum Diagnostics Company, Egypt). Serum urea and creatinine level were assayed as kidney function tests using kits also provided by Spectrum Diagnostics Company, (Egypt). Serum necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α) was investigated by the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay using Koma Biotec Inc. kits, Korea. The operational processes were measured in accordance with the kit instructions.
Biochemical analysis in tissue homogenate
Myeloperoxidase, a marker of neutrophil infiltration, was assayed using a modified method of Bradley et al. . In brief, the pellet from gastric homogenate was resuspended in 50 mM potassium phosphate buffer (pH 6.0) containing 0.5% hexadecyl trimethyl ammonium bromide using TM 125 tissue master homogenized (Omni, USA). Three freeze/thaw cycles were then performed followed by 10 s sonication using VCX500 sonicator (Sonics & materials, Inc. USA). Suspensions were centrifuged (4 °C/15 min/15000 rpm), and the supernatant was used to detect MPO activity at 460 nm using o-dianisidinedihydrochloride and 0.005% hydrogen peroxide. One unit of MPO activity was defined as that degrading 1 μmol peroxide/min/25 °C.
Nitric oxide assay
Nitric oxide (NO) concentration was assayed by measuring nitrite formed from NO oxidation , based on Griess diazotization reaction.
The initial rate of H2O2 disappearance at 240 nm was used to detect catalase (CAT) activity according to Aebi . Enzyme activity (1 unit) is equivalent to enzyme concentration used to decompose 1 μmol of H2O2/min/25°C at pH 7.0.
Superoxide dismutase assay
Superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity estimated according to method of Minami and Yoshikawa , where pyrogallol autoxidation is inhibited through superoxide radical catalysis, reaction with nitro-blue tetrazolium and measurement of formed formazan dye at 540 nm. Enzyme activity (1 unit) is equivalent to enzyme concentration inhibiting 50% of pyrogallol autoxidation.
Glutathione peroxidase assay
Glutathione peroxidase (GSH-Px) activity was determined according to method of Necheles et al.  at 412 nm. Enzyme activity (1 unit) is equivalent to 1 µmol GSH consumed per minute.
Reduced glutathione assay
The method of Beutler et al.  was used for GSH assay. Tissue homogenate supernatants was previously treated with equal volumes of 10% (HPO3)n, then centrifuged for at least 2 min at 4000 rpm to eliminate proteins in order to avoid interferences of protein R-SH groups.
Thiobarbituric acid reactive substances assay
Malondialdehyde (MDA), resulting from lipid peroxidation, was assayed  based on the reaction of MDA with amino group of thiobarbituric acid forming 1:2 adduct that absorbs strongly at 532 nm.
Tissue specimens were taken mainly from the glandular part of stomach of the all groups and fixed in 10% neutral buffer formalin overnight. Routine tissue processing was carried out according to Suvarna et al. . Tissue blocks were cut into 3 μm-sections and stained with hematoxylin and eosin (H&E) for histopathological examination.
All results were expressed as means ± SD. The data were evaluated with SPSS 19.0 (SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL, USA). The statistical significance of differences for each parameter among the groups was evaluated by one-way ANOVA, followed by LSD test. The significance level was set at P < 0.05.
Total phenolic (TPC) and total flavonoid (TFC) contents in C. ignea aerial parts extract
Radical scavenging activity of C. ignea aerial parts extract
Reducing capacity of C. ignea aerial parts extract
Safety of C. ignea aerial parts extract
Effect of C. ignea aerial parts extract on the liver and kidney function tests
38.75 ± 8.37
7.50 ± 3.06
59.37 ± 14.62
47.09 ± 9.08
0.58 ± 0.24
C. ignea 250
46.00 ± 8.10
8.75 ± 7.56
64.08 ± 17.05
46.00 ± 8.10
0.69 ± 0.17
C. ignea 500
38.25 ± 17.51
9.50 ± 4.62
55.02 ± 8.45
43.25 ± 13.10
0.67 ± 0.24
Effect of C. ignea aerial parts extract on ulcer index and preventive index
Effect of C. ignea aerial parts extract on gastric secretion indices
Effect of C. ignea aerial parts extract on pH, volume and pepsin activity of gastric juice in various experimental groups
Gastric Volume (mL)
Pepsin activity (U/mL)
7.11 ± 1.99
0.12 ± 0.02
2997.20 ± 213.84
4.68 ± 0.58a
2.63 ± 0.63a
1016.33 ± 218.03a
Ranitidine + EtOH
6.12 ± 1.86ab
1.58 ± 0.39ab
1382.33 ± 235.42ab
C. ignea 250
6.75 ± 0.97b
0.20 ± 0.14b
2928.83 ± 293.80b
C. ignea 250 + EtOH
5.51 ± 1.93ab
1.61 ± 0.34ab
1212.00 ± 369.84a
C. ignea 500
6.87 ± 0.83b
0.15 ± 0.04b
3148.75 ± 452.45b
C. ignea 500 + EtOH
6.08 ± 1.73ab
1.91 ± 0.61ab
1647.76 ± 311.09ab
Effect of C. ignea aerial parts extract on serum tumor necrosis factor-alpha, gastric mucosal myeloperoxidase activity and nitric oxide content
Effect of C. ignea aerial parts extract on gastric antioxidants and MDA
Pathological findings on the gastric mucosa
Alcohol consumption has been considered as a leading cause of gastric ulcer in humans; hence, researchers used the animal model of gastric injury induced by ethanol to simulate conditions that humans may be exposed, to study the antiulcer efficacy of natural products or new therapeutics intended to be used for gastric protection . Oral administration of absolute ethanol in the animal model is destructive to stomach tissue, since it penetrates rapidly and easily into the gastric mucosa, producing gastric lesions . Such lesions characterized by extensive submucosal edema, hemorrhage, desquamation of epithelial cells and infiltration of inflammatory cells, which are typical characteristics of alcohol injury in humans [34, 35].
The current study was designed for the first time, to study gastroprotective effect of aqueous ethanolic extract of C. ignea aerial parts against ethanol-induced gastric ulcer in comparison to ranitidine, which is widely approved and used for gastric ulcer treatment. This study is based on our phytochemical screening of this extract which revealed the presence of flavonoids, tannins, triterpenoids and saponin. These phytoconstituents, particularly flavonoids and tannins, were previously established to be among the possible cytoprotective agents involved in reducing gastric ulcer [36, 37].
In the present study, a high degree of ulceration was observed in rats treated with absolute ethanol. This was clearly confirmed by macroscopical and histopathological findings which revealed severe hemorrhage, appeared as severe congestion in the lamina propria submucosa and inter-villus extravasation of RBCs extended among the mucosal villi of the gastric tissue. These findings could be due to ethanol toxicity which causes decrease in the coagulopathy process which leads to the continuity of hemorrhage . Hu et al.  reported that hemorrhagic shock induced by ethanol toxicity in lab animals is followed by alterations in the level of some pro-inflammatory and inflammatory mediators. Moreover, severe coaggulative necrosis was observed in some areas of gastric mucosa of ethanol treated rats. This result is in accordance with Liu et al.  and Li et al. , who stated that ethanol administration could induce gastric micro-vessel disturbance and blood flow stasis which finally lead to necrotic gastric injury. Pre-treatment of rats with C. ignea extract significantly reduced the ulcer index at both doses compared to ulcerated group. Moreover, ulcerated animals pre-treated with C. ignea showed a better reduction in ulcer index than the standard drug ranitidine, indicating that C. ignea could be valuable in healing gastric ulcer. This result is in line with the study of Abebaw et al. , who reported similar effect for Osyris quadripartite Decne extract as compared to ranitidine.
Lüllmann et al.  stated that elevated concentration of the hydrogen ion is an aggressive factor facilitating gastric damage via decreasing pH in gastric juice. The present study showed significant reduction in gastric pH level in ethanol treated rats comparing to normal control group. C. ignea pre-treatment in ethanol-ulcerated groups significantly improved gastric pH levels with simultaneous decreases in gastric secretion in comparison to ethanol group. The efficiency of C. ignea extract in increasing gastric pH could be attributed to the presence of flavonoids in the extract. According to Zhao et al.  and Liu et al. , flavonoids have a main role in the mechanism of gastro-protection by rising pH of gastric juice. Moreover, our results showed that pre-treatment with C. ignea extract had similar effects on gastric pH as the reference ranitidine drug, which has a great ability to decrease stomach acid production and neutralize stomach acidic environment. Furthermore, our study showed that, ethanol ulcerated rats have significant reduction in pepsin activity in comparing to normal group and this is in agreement with Puurunen  who clarified that, high concentrations of ethanol can reduce peptic activity due to its ability to inhibit pepsinogen activation to pepsin. On the other hand, C. ignea pre-treatment improved pepsin activity in gastric secretion in dose dependent manner, indicating that C. ignea extract has the ability to regulate ethanol effect on peptic activity.
Inflammatory response is one of the characteristics of gastric ulcer which promotes gastric mucosal injury through the migration of macrophages and leukocytes into the ulcerated and the surrounding areas . TNF-α is a major pro-inflammatory cytokine released from migrated macrophages during inflammation . It stimulates neutrophil infiltration in gastric inflamed areas  and suppresses the gastric microcirculation around ulcerated mucosa and delays gastric ulcer healing . The present data indicated that ethanol administration induced inflammatory response as evidenced by the marked increase in serum level of TNF-α as compared to control group. This result is consistent with previous reports of Li et al.  and El-Hussieny et al.  who reported an increase in gastric tissue pro-inflammatory cytokines due to ethanol administration. On the other hand, a dose-dependent reduction in TNF-α level was observed in the ulcerated groups pretreated with C. ignea, and this may be attributed to its anti-inflammatory effect. This result was confirmed by our histopathological findings which revealed decreased inflammatory responses by C. ignea pre-treatment.
Increased neutrophils infiltration into the gastric mucosa due to ethanol administration is assessed by elevation of the gastric MPO activity released from neutrophils [51, 52]. This was observed in the present work by marked increase in MPO activity in the stomach of rats treated with ethanol. Inhibition of neutrophil infiltration into ulcerated gastric tissues is a vital anti-inflammatory mechanism by which anti-ulcer agents can improve the healing process of gastric ulcer and protect against it . Pre-treatment with C. ignea extract in ulcerated rats caused a significant and dose dependent reduction in neutrophil infiltration into the gastric mucosa as evidenced by suppression of MPO activity, demonstrating its anti-ulcer effect.
Nitric oxide, derived from constitutive nitric oxide synthase, is a vital endogenous mediator of mucosal defense and plays a significant role in the maintenance of normal gastric mucosal integrity . This role of NO may be due to its ability to reduce neutrophil infiltration  and to influence blood flow in gastric tissues during the healing process of gastric ulcer . In the present study, ethanol ulcerated group showed significant reduction in gastric NO levels in comparing to control group. This finding is in accordance with Goswami et al.  and Nordin et al. . On the other hand, ulcerated rats pre-treated with C. ignea displayed marked increase in NO level, indicating its anti-ulcer efficacy. According to Abdulla et al.  keeping normal levels of nitric oxide is one of the main mechanisms used to protect gastric mucosa against harmful effects of ethanol.
Laine et al.  stated that reactive oxygen species (ROS) generated by neutrophils in gastric mucosa has a critical role in the gastric mucosal injury. Later, Al Rashdi et al.  and Kan et al.  reported that elevated production of ROS and depletion of antioxidants are involved in the pathophysiology and development of ethanol-induced gastric ulcer. According to Yu et al. , accumulation of ROS leads to lipid peroxidation as a result of their reaction against cell membrane. Our data revealed that, ethanol administration significantly reduced the activity levels of antioxidant enzymes (CAT, SOD and GSH-Px) and increased the concentration of MDA with concomitant depletion in GSH concentration in the gastric tissue of ethanol group, this is in the same line with the previous studies of Sidahmed et al. . On the other hand, pre-treatment of C. ignea extract in ulcerated groups has a great efficacy in preventing free radical mediated oxidative damage by enhancing the activity of antioxidant enzymes (CAT, SOD and GSH-Px) and restoring the depleted GSH levels together with reducing MDA levels. This antioxidant effect of the C. ignea extract could be attributed to its strong free radical scavenging activity due to the presence of a significant amount of, the powerful antioxidants, flavonoids and phenolic compounds. This is consistent with Mei et al.  who established that one of the mechanisms responsible for the healing of ulcer is scavenging of ROS. Our study showed that C. ignea extract had strong antioxidant effect, which is comparable to that of ranitidine. Ahmadi et al.  previously reported that therapeutic effect of ranitidine on ulcer could be related to its antioxidant capacity through oxidative stress reduction mediated by scavenging of hydroxyl radical.
The results of the present study demonstrated that the aqueous ethanolic extract of C. ignea aerial parts at both doses attenuated ethanol-induced gastric ulcer through its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. This gastroprotective efficiency of C. ignea aerial parts extract could be possibly attributed to the presence of wealthy phytoconstituents as total polyphenols, flavonoids and tannins. Therefore, C. ignea could be used as a promising anti-ulcer agent in the treatment of gastric ulcers due to its comparable anti-ulcer effect to that of ranitidine. However, further researches should be taken to further explore the underlying mechanisms of action.
AMM and SKH proposed the research concept and designed the experimental model. AMM, NME, SKH and AEM performed the experimental work, provided reagents/materials necessary for experiments and interpreted the data and wrote the manuscript. ANH performed the extraction and the phytochemical studies. ESM carried out the in vitro studies. SMB collected plant samples and helped in the extraction. EAE analysed the data and corresponded the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
This work was funded by King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia through Researchers Supporting Project (Project No. RSP-2019/52). Funding was obtained based on the proposed study and the funding bodies had no further role in data collection, analysis, interpretation or manuscript preparation
Ethics approval and consent to participate
All animal experimental procedures were carried out in line with the institutional guidelines of the Animal Care and Use Committee of National Research Centre, Cairo, Egypt, and with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, as revised in 2000 and 2008. The experimental protocol was approved by the Research Ethical Committee of National Research Centre, Cairo, Egypt, Protocol number 16/164.
Consent for publications
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
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