An herbal formula inhibits STAT3 signaling and attenuates bone erosion in collagen-induced arthritis rats

Yingjie Chen, Jia Ying Wu, Wai Chung Leung, Yu Xi Liu, Xiu Qiong Fu, Jia Qian Zhu, Ying Wu, Ji Yao Chou, Cheng Le Yin, Ya Ping Wang, Xiao Qi Wang, Jing Xuan Bai, Zheng Zhi Wu, Zhiling Yu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Receptor activator of NF-κB ligand (RANKL) facilitates differentiation of osteoclast precursors into osteoclasts, resulting in bone erosion in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients. Fibroblast-like synoviocytes (FLS) are the main cells for producing RANKL. Signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3) signaling is activated in FLS of RA patients (RA-FLS), which has been linked to RANKL production. A two-herb formula (RL) comprising Rosae Multiflorae Fructus and Lonicerae Japonicae Flos is traditionally used for treating RA in China. We have found that a standardized ethanolic extract of RL (RLE for short) alleviates bone erosion in collagen-induced arthritis (CIA) rats.

Purpose: This study aimed to determine whether RLE inhibits RANKL production and osteoclastogenesis in cell and rat models, and to explore the involvement of the STAT3 pathway in this inhibition.

Study Design and Methods: A CIA rat model, interleukin-6/soluble interleukin-6 receptor (IL-6/sIL-6R)-stimulated RA-FLS and a co-culture system (IL-6/sIL-6R-stimulated RA-FLS/peripheral blood mononuclear cells) were used to evaluate the effects of RLE. Micro-computed tomography analysis was used to observe bone erosion in CIA rats. Tartrate-resistant acid phosphatase staining was used to evaluate osteoclastogenesis. Western blotting and ELISA assays were employed to examine protein levels. RT-qPCR was used to detect mRNA levels. STAT3-over-activated RA-FLS were used to investigate the involvement of STAT3 signaling in the anti-osteoclastogenic effects of RLE.

Results: RLE alleviated bone erosion in joints of CIA rats. In both synovial tissues of CIA rats and IL-6/sIL-6R-stimulated RA-FLS, RLE downregulated the protein level of RANKL. In the co-culture system, RLE significantly and dose-dependently inhibited IL-6/sIL-6R-induced osteoclastogenesis. Mechanistic studies revealed that RLE lowered the protein level of phospho-STAT3 (Tyr705) in synovial tissues of CIA rats. In IL-6/sIL-6R-stimulated RA-FLS, RLE inhibited the activation/phosphorylation of a STAT3 upstream kinase Janus kinase 2 (Tyr1007/1008) and STAT3 (Tyr705), decreased the nuclear localization of STAT3, lowered mRNA levels of STAT3-transcriptionally regulated genes IL-1β and TNF-α. RLE's inhibitory effects on RANKL production in RA-FLS gradually decreased when IL-6/sIL-6R doses increased. Over-activation of STAT3 diminished the inhibitory effects of RLE on RANKL production in IL-6/sIL-6R-stimulated RA-FLS, and attenuated the anti-osteoclastogenic effects of RLE in the co-culture system.

Conclusion: We, for the first time, demonstrated that suppressing STAT3 signaling contributes to the inhibition of RANKL production and osteoclastogenesis, and thereby supports the mechanisms responsible for the reduction in bone erosion in RLE-treated CIA rats. This study provides further pharmacological groundwork for developing RLE as a modern anti-arthritic drug, and supports the notion that targeting STAT3 signaling is a viable strategy for managing bone erosion.

Original languageEnglish
Article number153254
Number of pages10
Early online date30 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2020

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmaceutical Science
  • Drug Discovery
  • Complementary and alternative medicine

User-Defined Keywords

  • Bone erosion
  • Lonicera japonica
  • Osteoclastogenesis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Rosa multiflora
  • STAT3 signaling


Dive into the research topics of 'An herbal formula inhibits STAT3 signaling and attenuates bone erosion in collagen-induced arthritis rats'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this