Backgroud: Uterine fibroids (ULs) are the most common benign tumors of the reproductive tract in gynecology and their clinical presentations include menorrhagia, pelvic pressure, dysmenorrhea, and anemia. Surgical resection and the hormonal drug administration are the primary treatment. The plant Astragalus membranaceus (astragalus) has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine and studies have shown that it has antitumor effects. However, the role and mechanism of astragalus in ULs are not completely clear. The present study aimed to investigate the astragalus mechanism of action against ULs based on network pharmacology approach, in order to provid insights for the development of a safe and effective drug for the ULs treatment.
Methods: The astragalus active ingredients and the potential drug targets were screened by the Traditional Chinese Medicine System Pharmacology Database and Analytical Platform (TCMSP). The gene expression profiles of ULs were obtained from Gene Expression Omnibus (GEO). The intersection of astragalus components target genes and differentially expressed genes between UL and normal patients were obtained using Perl software to provide the astragalus-ULs drug regulatory network. The protein–protein interaction (PPI) network was established using the STRING online database and Cytoscape software, followed by the topological properties analysis of the PPI networks. GO (Gene ontology) and KEGG (Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes) enrichment analyses were conducted by R software. The KEGG relational network was constructed using Cytoscape software.
Results: A total of 21 astragalus active ingredients and 406 drug targets were obtained from the TCMSP. Seventeen of these targets overlap with ULs disease targets and were considered potential targets for the ULs treatment by astragalus. The analysis of the regulatory network showed that the astragalus active components with the most targets are quercetin, kaempferol, mangiferin, tetrodotoxin and isorhamnetin. Target genes with the highest Dgree values obtained from the PPI network analysis are estrogen receptor 1 (ESR1), tumor suppressor factor p53 (TP53), neurotrophic tyrosine kinase receptor 1 (NTRK1) and E3 ubiquitin ligase protein (CUL3). GO and KEGG enrichment analyses indicate that these targets are mainly involved in biological processes related to cellular response to reactive oxygen species, oxidative stress and response to lipopolysaccharides. The main signal transduction pathways involved include the IL-17 and TNF signaling pathways, the AGE-RAGE signaling pathway in diabetic complications and proteoglycans in cancer.
Conclusions: The present study demonstrates that the astragalus therapeutic use against ULs have multicomponent and multi-target properties, providing a novel approach to further investigate the astragalus mechanism of action in the treatment of ULs.