Elder (Sambucus nigra), identified by high-content screening, counteracts foam cell formation without promoting hepatic lipogenesis

Stefanie Steinbauer, Alice König, Cathrina Neuhauser, Bettina Schwarzinger, Herbert Stangl, Marcus Iken, Julian Weghuber, Clemens Röhrl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cholesterol deposition in intimal macrophages leads to foam cell formation and atherosclerosis. Reverse cholesterol transport (RCT), initiated by efflux of excess cholesterol from foam cells, counteracts atherosclerosis. However, targeting RCT by enhancing cholesterol efflux was so far accompanied by adverse hepatic lipogenesis. Here, we aimed to identify novel natural enhancers of macrophage cholesterol efflux suitable for the prevention of atherosclerosis. Plant extracts of an open-access library were screened for their capacity to increase cholesterol efflux in RAW264.7 macrophages trace-labeled with fluorescent BODIPY-cholesterol. Incremental functional validation of hits yielded two final extracts, elder (Sambucus nigra) and bitter orange (Citrus aurantium L.) that induced ATP binding cassette transporter A1 (ABCA1) expression and reduced cholesteryl ester accumulation in aggregated LDL-induced foam cells. Aqueous elder extracts were subsequently prepared in-house and both, flower and leaf extracts increased ABCA1 mRNA and protein expression in human THP-1 macrophages, while lipogenic gene expression in hepatocyte-derived cells was not induced. Chlorogenic acid isomers and the quercetin glycoside rutin were identified as the main polyphenols in elder extracts with putative biological action. In summary, elder flower and leaf extracts increase macrophage ABCA1 expression and reduce foam cell formation without adversely affecting hepatic lipogenesis.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3547
Pages (from-to)3547
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 12 Feb 2024


  • Humans
  • Foam Cells/metabolism
  • Sambucus nigra
  • Lipoproteins, LDL/metabolism
  • Lipogenesis
  • Cholesterol/metabolism
  • Atherosclerosis/metabolism
  • Sambucus
  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter 1/genetics
  • Plant Extracts


Dive into the research topics of 'Elder (Sambucus nigra), identified by high-content screening, counteracts foam cell formation without promoting hepatic lipogenesis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this