Can the plant compound apigenin decrease Down syndrome deficits?


Researchers studied the effects of apigenin on mice with Down syndrome.

Down syndrome occurs when there is an extra copy or piece of chromosome 21, but the cause is unknown. Scientists believe that inflammation to the fetal brain may cause decreased brain growth, which leads to intellectual and developmental delays. 

Recently a team of doctors from the National Institutes of Health and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) performed a study on the effects of the plant compound apigenin on Down syndrome. Apigenin is a chemical compound found in plants such as chamomile, mint, parsley, celery, and citrus fruits. The study was published in American Journal of Human Genetics.

Chamomile has been used since ancient times to prevent inflammation and spasms. It was also used as an antiseptic and to treat an upset stomach. While it is frequently consumed as an herbal tea, demand for chamomile essential oil has increased in recent years. 

Researchers studied apigenin because it is anti-inflammatory, non-toxic, and can be absorbed through the placenta and the blood brain barrier. To determine whether apigenin would have any effect on Down syndrome, the research team fed apigenin to mice pregnant with babies that had Down syndrome. After they were born, the mice continued to ingest apigenin as they grew and matured.

The apigenin-fed mice with Down syndrome were compared to mice with Down syndrome that were fed a normal diet. Both groups of mice were tracked for developmental milestones and were given tests for spatial and olfactory memory. The mice groups were also tested to determine specific gene and protein levels.

Between the two groups, the mice that were fed apigenin performed better in the spatial and olfactory tests and showed improvement in the developmental tests. Test revealed that mice in the apigenin group had fewer signs of inflammation. When the nervous systems of the two groups were compared, the apigenin group grew more than the normal diet group. 

Future studies will be required to confirm the findings and test in humans, but the results suggest that if successful, apigenin could be given to women pregnant with babies that have Down syndrome.

Written by: Rebecca K. Blankenship, B.Sc.

Image by Manfred Richter from Pixabay 


  1. Facts and FAQ About Down Syndrome. Global Down Syndrome Foundation. Published October 20, 2020.
  2. Guedj F, Siegel AE, Pennings JL, et al. Apigenin as a Candidate Prenatal Treatment for Trisomy 21: Effects in Human Amniocytes and the Ts1Cje Mouse Model. The American Journal of Human Genetics. 2020. doi:10.1016/j.ajhg.2020.10.001
  3. Singh O, Khanam Z, Misra N, Srivastava M. Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla L.): An overview. Pharmacognosy Reviews. 2011;5(9):82. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.79103

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