Pickled capers were found to activate KCNQ channels important for normal human brain and heart activity. Image credit: Bo Abbott.
Archaeological evidence for human caper consumption dates back as far as Mesolithic soil deposits in Syria thought to be more than 10,000 years old, and Stone Age cave dwellings in the Greek Peloponnesian peninsula and Israel.
Capers have traditional been used as folk medicine for hundreds if not thousands of years and are in current use or study for their anti-helminthic, anti-cancer, anti-diabetic and anti-inflammatory properties and possible circulatory and gastrointestinal benefits.
Pickled capers are used throughout the world for a variety of culinary purposes. In the U.S. they are often added for flavoring to smoked salmon, pasta and other dishes.
They are the richest known natural source of a bioflavonoid called quercetin, with a maximum reported concentration of 520 mg/100 g for canned capers, compared to a maximum of 323 mg/100 g quercetin for raw capers.
In the new study, University of California, Irvine School of Medicine’s Professor Geoffrey Abbott and graduate student Kaitlyn Redford found that quercetin modulates potassium ion channels in the KCNQ gene family.
These channels are highly influential in human health and their dysfunction is linked to several common human diseases, including diabetes, cardiac arrhythmia, and epilepsy.
The study revealed that quercetin modulates the KCNQ channels by directly regulating how they sense electrical activity in the cell, suggesting a previously unexpected mechanism for the therapeutic properties of capers.
The mechanism may extend to other quercetin-rich foods in our diet, and quercetin-based nutritional supplements.
“Now that we understand how quercetin controls KCNQ channels, future medicinal chemistry studies can be pursued to create and optimize quercetin-related small molecules for potential use as therapeutic drugs,” Professor Abbott said.
“Increasing the activity of KCNQ channels in different parts of the body is potentially highly beneficial,” he added.
“Synthetic drugs that do this have been used to treat epilepsy and show promise in preventing abnormal heart rhythms.”
The study was published online July 8, 2020 in the journal Communications Biology.
K.E. Redford & G.W. Abbott. 2020. The ubiquitous flavonoid quercetin is an atypical KCNQ potassium channel activator. Commun Biol 3, 356; doi: 10.1038/s42003-020-1089-8
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