Apitherapy, the therapeutic use of honeybee products, has been studied in a number of conditions including rheumatoid arthritis (RA). How bee venom works in this disease has been a mystery… until now.
A recent study investigated the molecular mechanisms behind bee venom’s impact on RA, a chronic, autoimmune inflammatory disease. It appears that melittin, a major component of bee venom is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent.
The researchers examined its action in a rat model of rheumatoid arthritis. For rats with advanced RA, treatment with bee venom at very low doses resulted in dramatic reductions of tissue swelling and bone spur formation in affected paws.
Next, the researchers examined the anti-inflammatory effects of bee venom on synovial cells, the cells that line the joints, from RA patients. They found melittin was able to block the expression of inflammatory genes, similar to the way non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) used to treat arthritis, act.
Melittin effectively reduces inflammation by inhibiting critical DNA binding activity of NF-Kb (nuclear factor kappa beta), which directly controls a number of genes involved in immune reactions. As a result, melittin is able to effectively inactivate inflammation in a specific fashion.
The authors stated, “The potency of melittin in the inhibition of inmflammatory response may be of great benefit in degenerative and inflammatory diseases such as RA. The extent of inhibitory effects of melittin in most parameters determined in the present study is similar to or greater than bee venom itself, suggesting that melittin may be a major causative component in the pharmacologic effects of bee venom.” (Park HJ, et al. Antiarthritis effect of bee venom: Inhibition of inflammation mediator generation by suppression of NF-Kb through interaction with the p50 subunit. Arthritis Rheum. 2004; 50(11): 3504-3515.
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