Cucurbita moschata Duch. has long been used for traditional health food in many countries. However, to enhance the immune system of Cucurbita moschata Duch. and its major component, β-carotene is not clear. Here, we determined the immune enhancement effect of Cucurbita moschata Duch. and β-carotene in mouse splenocytes and RAW 264.7 macrophage cell line. We prepared baked Cucurbita moschata Duch. (Sweetme Sweet Pumpkin(TM), SSP) and steamed Cucurbita moschata Duch. (SC). Splenocytes isolated from the spleen of BALB/c mice were treated with SSP, SC, and β-carotene for 24 h. RAW 264.7 cells were stimulated with recombinant interferon-γ (rIFN-γ) for 6 h before treatment with SSP, SC, or β-carotene. SSP, SC and β-carotene significantly up-regulated the proliferation of splenocyte and mRNA expression of KI-67. The levels of interleukin-2 and IFN-γ were up-regulated by SSP, SC, or β-carotene in the splenocytes. SC and β-carotene also increased the levels of tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) in the splenocytes. In addition, SSP, SC, or β-carotene significantly increased the levels of TNF-α through the nuclear translocation of the nuclear factor-κB and phosphorylation of IκBα in the rIFN-γ-primed RAW 264.7 cells. These data indicate that Cucurbita moschata Duch. and β-carotene may have an immune-enhancing effect through the production of Th1 cytokines by activation of splenocytes and macrophages.
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