Experimental evidence suggests that most herbs and spices possess a wide range of biological and pharmacological activities that may protect tissues against O2-induced damage. The objectives of the present study were: first, to determine the effects of plant extracts on the viability, membrane integrity, antioxidant status and DNA integrity of Caco-2 cells and second, to investigate the cytoprotective and genoprotective effects of these plant extracts against oxidative stress in Caco-2 cells. The plant extracts examined were rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis L.), oregano (Origanum vulgare L.), sage (Salvia officinalis L.) and echinacea (Echinacea purpurea L.). Cell membrane integrity was assessed by the lactate dehydrogenase release assay. Viability was determined by the neutral red uptake assay (NRUA) and the concentration of compound that resulted in 50 % cell death (IC50) was calculated. Antioxidant status of the cells was assessed by measuring GSH content, catalase activity and superoxide dismutase activity. To examine their cytoprotective and genoprotective effects, Caco-2 cells were pre-treated with each plant extract for 24 h followed by exposure to H2O2. DNA damage was assessed by the comet assay and cell injury was determined by the NRUA. Rosemary was the most toxic (IC50 123 microg/ml) and echinacea the least toxic (IC50 1421 microg/ml). Sage was the only plant extract to affect the antioxidant status of the cells by increasing GSH content. Sage, oregano and rosemary protected against H2O2-induced DNA damage (olive tail moment and percentage tail DNA), whereas protection against H2O2-induced cytotoxicity was afforded by sage only.
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