FRONT PAGE: UCI-Led Study Finds Single Molecule Within A Specific Plant Used By Native Americans Can Treat Both Pain And Diarrhea

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Newswise — Irvine, CA – November 15, 2021 – In a University of California, Irvine-led study, researchers revealed a striking pattern following a functional screen of extracts from plants collected in Muir Woods National Monument, in coastal redwood forest land in California. The researchers found that plants used by Native Americans for topical analgesics have a long history. They were also often used as gastrointestinal aids.

The study, published today in Frontiers in Physiology, found plants that activated the KCNQ2/3 potassium channel, a protein that passes electrical impulses in the brain and other tissues, showed a long history of use by Native Americans as topical analgesics, to treat conditions such as insect bites, stings, sores and burns. The same plants that activated KCNQ2/3 were also used for folk analgesics. They were especially useful in preventing diarrhea.

“This study was done in collaboration with US National Parks Service. It illustrates how much we still have to learn from Native American medicinal practices and how, using molecular mechanistic methods, we can highlight and provide molecular rationalizations of their specific uses of plant species and possibly uncover new medicines from them,” said Geoffrey Abbott. He is a professor at the UCI School of Medicine’s Department of Physiology and Biophysics.

KCNQ2/3 can be found in nerve cells that sense pain. Its activation should soothe the pain by disfavoring the transmission of the pain signal. It was discovered that plant extracts that activate KCNQ2/3 also have an opposite effect on KCNQ1–KCNE3, the intestinal potassium channel. This is the breakthrough discovery. This was striking because previous research on modern medicines had shown that KCNQ1–KCNE3 inhibitors could prevent diarrhea.

The Abbott Lab has begun a larger screen of native US plants towards these goals. They have already shown that the beneficial effects of many plants can be explained by quercetin, tannic, and gallic acid, which are present in many plants. They also identified the binding sites of the channel proteins responsible for the effects.

With this information at the molecular level about compounds that activate or inhibit closely related human Ion Channel proteins, future research can be directed to improving drug specificity, safety, and efficacy. Further, medicinal chemistry can be used to optimize plant compounds for the purpose of treating pain and secretory diarrhoea.

” I am excited about this paper. It was my first collaboration with the National Park Service and shines a spotlight on the extraordinary ingenuity of Californian Native American tribes.

There are many public health implications to improved drugs in these areas. As we fight the twin public health problems of opioid addiction and chronic pain, novel non-opioid analgesics will be highly in demand. According to the CDC, diarrheal disease accounts for one in nine child deaths worldwide. In fact, more than AIDS and malaria combined, diarrhea kills more children each day than any other diseases.

About the UCI School of Medicine: Each year, the UCI School of Medicine educates more than 400 medical students, and nearly 150 doctoral and master’s students. More than 700 residents and fellows are trained at UCI Medical Center and affiliated institutions. The School of Medicine offers an MD, a dual MD/PhD program in medical scientist training, as well as PhDs and master’s degrees, including master’s degrees, in anatomy and neuroscience, biomedical sciences and genetic counseling, epidemiology and environmental health sciences. It also offers master’s and doctoral degrees in pharmacology and physiology, biophysics and translational science. An MD/MBA, a MD/masters in public health or an MD/masters in medicine may be pursued by medical students. These programs include Health Education to Advance Leaders in Integrative Medical (HEAL-IM), Leadership Education To Advance Diversity-African Black and Caribbean (LEADABC), and Program in Medical Education For the Latino Community (PRIMELC). The UCI School of Medicine is accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Accreditation and ranks among the top 50 nationwide for research. For more information, visit

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