Butein is a phytochemical that belongs to the chalcone family of flavonoids and has antitumor, anti-inflammatory, and anti-osteoclastic bone resorption activities. This study aims to investigate the effects of butein on the differentiation potential of mouse primary bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells (mBMSCs) into osteoblast and adipocyte lineages. Primary cultures of mBMSCs are treated with different doses of butein during its differentiation. Osteoblast differentiation is assessed by alkaline phosphatase (ALP) activity quantification and Alizarin red staining for matrix mineralization, while adipogenesis is assessed by quantification of lipid accumulation using Oil Red O staining. Osteoblastic and adipocytic gene expression markers are determined by quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR). Western blot analysis is used to study the activation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK1/2). Interestingly, butein promotes the lineage commitment of mBMSCs into osteoblasts, while suppressing their differentiation into adipocytes in a dose-dependent manner. A similar effect of butein is confirmed in human (h) primary BMSCs. Occurring at the molecular level, butein significantly upregulates the mRNA expression of osteoblast-related genes, while downregulating the expression of adipocyte-related genes. The mechanism of butein-induced osteogenesis is found to be mediated by activating the ERK1/2 signaling pathway. To conclude, we identify butein as a novel nutraceutical compound with an osteo-anabolic activity to promote the lineage commitment of BMSCs into osteoblast versus adipocyte. Thus, butein can be a plausible therapeutic drug for enhancing bone formation in osteoporotic patients.
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