Opuntia polyacantha (prickly pear cactus) has been used extensively for its nutritional properties; however, less is known regarding medicinal properties of Opuntia tissues. In the present study, we extracted polysaccharides from O. polyacantha and used size-exclusion chromatography to fractionate the crude polysaccharides into four polysaccharide fractions (designated as Opuntia polysaccharides C-I to C-IV). The average Mr of fractions C-I through C-IV was estimated to be 733, 550, 310, and 168 kDa, respectively, and sugar composition analysis revealed that Opuntia polysaccharides consisted primarily of galactose, galacturonic acid, xylose, arabinose, and rhamnose. Analysis of the effects of Opuntia polysaccharides on human and murine macrophages demonstrated that all four fractions had potent immunomodulatory activity, inducing production of reactive oxygen species, nitric oxide, tumor necrosis factor α, and interleukin 6. Furthermore, modulation of macrophage function by Opuntia polysaccharides was mediated, at least in part, through activation of nuclear factor κB. Together, our results provide a molecular basis to explain a portion of the beneficial therapeutic properties of extracts from O. polyacantha and support the concept of using Opuntia polysaccharides as an immunotherapeutic adjuvant.
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