Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes joint deformity and disability. Deer velvet antler (DA), a traditional Chinese medicine, has been used to treat various types of arthritis for several thousands of years, but the underlying mechanisms are unknown. Herein, we investigated the anti-arthritic and anti-inflammatory effects of DA in vitro and in vivo. The ethyl acetate layer of DA ethanol extract (DA-EE-EA) was used to treat tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α-stimulated fibroblast-like synoviocyte MH7A cells, collagen-induced arthritis DBA/1 mice, and SKG mice with zymosan-induced arthritis. DA-EE-EA reduced nitric oxide production, prostaglandin E2 levels, and levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines including interleukin (IL)-1β, IL-6, and IL-8 in MH7A cells. DA-EE-EA also downregulated the phosphorylation of mitogen-activated protein kinase p38 and c-Jun N-terminal kinase and the translocation of nuclear factor kappa B p65. Intraperitoneal injection of DA-EE-EA for 3 weeks substantially reduced clinical arthritis scores in vivo models. Pathohistological images of the hind paws showed that DA-EE-EA reduced immune cell infiltration, synovial hyperplasia, and cartilage damage. The levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as tumor necrosis factor alpha, IL-1β, IL-6, IL-8, IL-17A, and interferon-gamma, decreased in the hind paw homogenates of DA-EE-EA-treated mice. We also identified several potential components, such as hexadecanamide, oleamide, erucamide, and lysophosphatidylcholines, that might contribute to the anti-inflammatory effects of DA-EE-EA. In conclusion, DA-EE-EA has the potential to treat RA by regulating inflammatory responses. However, the individual components of DA-EE-EA and the underlying anti-inflammatory mechanisms need further investigation in future studies.
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