Chemical characterization and evaluation of biological activity of Cynara cardunculus extractable compounds


The Mediterranean species Cynara cardunculus L. is recognized in the traditional medicine, for their hepatoprotective and choleretic effects. Biomass of C. cardunculus L. var. altilis (DC), or cultivated cardoon, may be explored not only for the production of energy and pulp fibers, but also for the extraction of bioactive compounds. The chemical characterization of extractable components, namely terpenic and phenolic compounds, may valorize the cultivated cardoon plantation, due to their antioxidant, antitumoral and antimicrobial activities. In this study, the chemical composition of lipophilic and phenolic fractions of C. cardunculus L. var. altilis (DC), cultivated in the south of Portugal (Baixo Alentejo region) was characterized in detail, intending the integral valorization of its biomass. The biological activity of cultivated cardoon extracts was evaluated in terms of antioxidant, human tumor cell antiproliferative and antibacterial effects. Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) was used for the chemical analysis of lipophilic compounds. Sixty-five lipophilic compounds were identified, from which 1 sesquiterpene lactone and 4 pentacyclic triterpenes were described, for the first time, as cultivated cardoon components, such as: deacylcynaropicrin, acetates of β- and α-amyrin, lupenyl acetate and ψ-taraxasteryl acetate. Sesquiterpene lactones were the major family of lipophilic components of leaves (≈94.5 g/kg), mostly represented by cynaropicrin (≈87.4 g/kg). Pentacyclic triterpenes were also detected, in considerably high contents, in the remaining parts of cultivated cardoon, especially in the florets (≈27.5 g/kg). Taraxasteryl acetate was the main pentacyclic triterpene (≈8.9 g/kg in florets). High pressure liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (HPLC-MS) was utilized for the chemical analysis of phenolic compounds. Among the identified 28 phenolic compounds, eriodictyol hexoside was reported for the first time as C. cardunculus L. component, and 6 as cultivated cardoon components, namely 1,4-di-O-caffeoylquinic acid, naringenin 7-O-glucoside, naringenin rutinoside, naringenin, luteolin acetylhexoside and apigenin acetylhexoside. The highest content of the identified phenolic compounds was observed in the florets (≈12.6 g/kg). Stalks outer part contained the highest hydroxycinnamic acids abundance (≈10.3 g/kg), and florets presented the highest flavonoids content (≈10.3 g/kg). The antioxidant activity of phenolic fraction was examined through 2,2-diphenyl-1-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH) free radical scavenging assay. Stalks outer part, and receptacles and bracts extracts demonstrated the highest antioxidant effect on DPPH (IC50 of 34.35 μg/mL and 35.25 μg/mL, respectively). (cont.) abstract (cont.) The DPPH scavenging effect was linearly correlated with the total contents of hydroxycinnamic acids (r = -0.990). The in vitro antiproliferative activity of cultivated cardoon lipophilic and phenolic extracts was evaluated on a human tumor cells line of triple-negative breast cancer (MDA-MB-231), one of the most refractory human cancers to conventional therapeutics. After 48 h of exposition, leaves lipophilic extract showed higher inhibitory effect (IC50 = 10.39 μg/mL) than florets lipophilic extract (IC50 = 315.22 μg/mL), upon MDA-MB-231 cellular viability. Pure compound of cynaropicrin, representative of the main compound identified in leaves lipophilic extract, also prevented the cell proliferation of MDA-MB-231 (IC50 = 17.86 μM). MDA-MB-231 cells were much more resistant to the 48 h- treatment with phenolic extracts of stalks outer part (IC50 = 3341.20 μg/mL) and florets (IC50 > 4500 μg/mL), and also with the pure compound of 1,5-di-O-caffeoylquinic acid (IC50 = 1741.69 μM). MDA-MB-231 cells were exposed, for 48 h, to the respective IC50 concentrations of leaves lipophilic extract and pure compound of cynaropicrin, in order to understand their ability in modelling cellular responses, and consequently important potentially signaling pathways for the cellular viability decrease. Leaves lipophilic extract increased the caspase-3 enzymatic activity, contrarily to pure compound of cynaropicrin. Additionally, leaves lipophilic extract and pure compound of cynaropicrin caused G2 cell cycle arrest, possibly by upregulating the p21Waf1/Cip1 and the accumulation of phospho-Tyr15-CDK1 and cyclin B1. The inhibitory effects of leaves lipophilic extract and cynaropicrin pure compound, against the MDA-MB-231 cell proliferation, may also be related to the downregulation of phospho-Ser473-Akt. The antibacterial activity of cultivated cardoon lipophilic and phenolic extracts was assessed, for the first time, on two multidrug-resistant bacteria, such as the Gram-negative Pseudomonas aeruginosa PAO1 and the Gram-positive methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), two of the main bacteria responsible for health care-associated infections. Accordingly, the minimum inhibitory concentrations (MIC) were determined. Lipophilic and phenolic extracts of florets did not have antibacterial activity on P. aeruginosa PAO1 and MRSA (MIC > 2048 μg/mL). Leaves lipophilic extract did not prevent the P. aeruginosa PAO1 growth, but pure compound of cynaropicrin was slightly active (MIC = 2048 μg/mL). Leaves lipophilic extract and pure compound of cynaropicrin blocked MRSA growth (MIC of 1024 and 256 μg/mL, respectively). The scientific knowledge revealed in this thesis, either by the chemical viewpoint, or by the biological viewpoint, contributes for the valorization of C. cardunculus L. var. altilis (DC) biomass. Cultivated cardoon has potential to be exploited as source of bioactive compounds, in conciliation with other valorization pathways, and Portuguese traditional cheeses manufacturing.


Patrícia Alexandra Bogango Ramos

our authors


Armando Jorge Domingues Silvestre; Maria de Fátima Pereira Duarte

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