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Network pharmacology integrated with experimental validation reveals the regulatory mechanism of plastrum testudinis in treating senile osteoporosis

Peng Zhang 1Honglin Chen 2Gengyang Shen 3Zhida Zhang 4Xiang Yu 5Qi Shang 6Wenhua Zhao 7Danyun Li 8Peixin Li 9Guifeng Chen 10De Liang 11Xiaobing Jiang 12Hui Ren 13

J Ethnopharmacol. 2021 May 10;114198. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2021.114198. 

Abstract

Ethnopharmacological relevance: Plastrum testudinis (PT) has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat bone diseases such as senile osteoporosis (SOP) for thousands of years. However, the underlying mechanisms remain largely unknown.

Aim of the study: This study aims to investigate the possible molecular mechanism of PT in the treatment of SOP using an integrated strategy of network pharmacology and experimental validation.

Materials and methods: The compounds of PT and its targets were identified through the BATMAN-TCM database. The SOP-related targets were retrieved from the GeneCards database. Protein-protein interaction information was obtained by inputting the intersection targets into the STRING database. Cytoscape software was used to construct a protein-protein interaction network and a PT-compound-target-SOP network. Using Cytoscape and R software, we conducted GO function and KEGG pathway enrichment analyses. We also conducted in vivo and in vitro experiments to verify the network pharmacology findings.

Results: In total, 6 active compounds and 342 targets of PT were screened, of which 57 common targets were related to SOP. The GO biological process enrichment analysis identified 880 entries, mainly relating to the regulation of hormone response, the cell apoptotic process, the apoptotic signaling pathway, NF-kappaB transcription factor activity, fatty acid transportation, osteoclast differentiation, macrophage activation, and inflammatory response. The KEGG pathway enrichment analysis identified 52 entries, including 14 related signaling pathways, which mainly involved the TNF, MAPK, IL-17, AGE-RAGE, estrogen, relaxin, and other signaling pathways. Our in vivo experiments confirmed that PT alleviates SOP, while the in vitro experiments demonstrated that PT exerts a suppressive effect on osteoclast differentiation and bone resorption in a concentration-dependent manner. Furthermore, we observed that PT downregulates the expression of osteoclast-specific genes, including C-FOS, TNF, and BDNF, in the MAPK signaling pathway.

Conclusion: Through network pharmacology and experimental validation, this study is the first to report that PT downregulates the expression of osteoclast-specific genes, including C-FOS, TNF, and BDNF, in the MAPK signaling pathway, thus exerting a suppressive effect on osteoclast differentiation and bone resorption, which may be the molecular mechanism for PT treatment of SOP.