Castor Oil: Old and New

  • Author: Melania Tesio
  • Published: 01 June 2012
  • Copyright: Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim
  • Source / Publisher: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences/National Academy of Sciences
thumbnail image: Castor Oil: Old and New

Obtained from the seeds of Ricinus communis, castor oil has been used since ancient times as a laxative and a labor promoting drug. While the pharmacological properties of this vegetable oil are attributed to its main component – the ricinoleic acid, a hydroxylated unsaturated fatty acid –, its mechanisms of action were so far elusive. A group of researchers at Max Planck Institute for Heart and Lung Research and at Goethe University, both Germany, has solved the riddle.

The team, guided by Stefan Offermanns, discovered that the effects exerted by ricinoleic acid are due to its selective interaction with EP3 prostaglandin receptors expressed on smooth muscle cells of the intestine and of the uterus. The researchers observed that no contraction of the intestine occurred when they delivered castor oil to mice lacking EP3 receptors selectively on these cells. As a consequence, in EP3 deficient mice, castor oil did not promote any laxative effects. The scientist revealed that, in the absence of EP3 receptors, also the uteri of pregnant and non pregnant animals fail to contract upon ricinoleic acid administration.

While this study reveals a specific mechanism of action for an old drug still used in both traditional and alternative medicine, it also opens the doors to new therapeutic approaches. EP3 receptors could indeed be an important target for the development of novel laxative or labor inducing drugs, deprived of castor oil´s side effects such as nausea. Moreover, the discovery that ricinoleic acid interacts specifically with prostaglandin receptors, raises the possibility that also other hydroxylated fatty acid activate prostanoid receptors.

Article Views: 3064

Sign in Area

Please sign in below

Additional Sign In options

Please note that to comment on an article you must be registered and logged in.
Registration is for free, you may already be registered to receive, e.g., the newsletter. When you register on this website, please ensure you view our terms and conditions. All comments are subject to moderation.

Article Comments - To add a comment please sign in

If you would like to reuse any content, in print or online, from, please contact us first for permission and consult our permisson guidance prior to making your request

Follow on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on YouTube Follow on LinkedIn Follow on Instagram RSS Sign up for newsletters

Magazine of Chemistry Europe (16 European Chemical Societies) published by Wiley-VCH