The purpose of the present investigation was to compare similarities and differences in immune response among Echinacea species, which are commonly used to treat upper respiratory infections. The investigation involved two components: acquisition of immunomodulatory data reported here for the first time, and combined phenetic analysis of these data along with previous reports. Experimental data were obtained by stimulating human PBMC in vitro with extracts from Echinacea spp. and assaying production of three cytokines (interleukin–1β [IL–1β], interleukin–2 [IL–2], and tumor necrosis factor–α [TNF–α]). Phenetic analyses were employed to compare responses across the entire data set, including UPGMA (Unweighted Pair Group Method with Arithmetic Mean) and neighbor-joining methods. In the immune experiments conducted for this investigation, E. angustifolia, E. paradoxa, E. purpurea, E. simulata, and E. tennesseensis extracts significantly augmented IL–1 β and TNF–α production, whereas no extracts significantly modulated IL–2. All phenetic methods produced similar dendrograms, revealing two species pairs (E. angustifolia E. simulata and E. pallida E.sanguinea) where both species cluster tightly and have similar immune-response profiles. These two species-pairs are maximally dissimilar from each other. The remaining species (E. paradoxa, E. purpurea, and E. tennesseensis) occupy intermediate positions in the dendrogram. Our results suggest that Echinacea spp. act heterogeneously on immune function. The utility of these data for science and industry is discussed.
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