Pure flavonoid epicatechin and whole genome gene expression profiles in circulating immune cells in adults with elevated blood pressure: A randomised double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover trial

Esser, Diederik; Geleijnse, Johanna M.; Matualatupauw, Juri C.; Dower, James I.; Kromhout, Daan; Hollman, Peter C.H.; Afman, Lydia A.


Cocoa consumption has beneficial cardiometabolic effects, but underlying mechanisms remain unclear. Epicatechin, the cocoa major monomeric flavan-3-ol, is considered to contribute to these cardio-protective effects. We investigated effects of pure epicatechin supplementation on gene expression profiles of immune cells in humans. In a double blind, placebo-controlled cross-over trial, 32 (pre)hypertensive subjects aged 30 to 80, received two 4-week interventions, i.e. epicatechin (100mg/day) or placebo with a 4-week wash-out between interventions. Gene expression profiles of peripheral blood mononuclear cells were determined before and after both interventions. Epicatechin regulated 1180 genes, of which 234 differed from placebo. Epicatechin upregulated gene sets involved in transcription and tubulin folding and downregulated gene sets involved in inflammation, PPAR signalling and adipogenesis. Several negatively enriched genes within these gene sets were involved in insulin signalling. Most inhibited upstream regulators within the epicatechin intervention were cytokines or involved in inflammation. No upstream regulators were identified compared to placebo. Epicatechin, a cocoa flavan-3-ol, reduces gene expression involved in inflammation, PPAR-signalling and adipogenesis in immune cells. Effects were mild but our findings increase our understanding and provide new leads on how epicatechin rich products like cocoa may affect immune cells and exert cardiometabolic protective effects.