PPAR antagonists are ligands that bind their receptor with high affinity without transactivation activity. Recently, they have been demonstrated to maintain insulin-sensitizing and antidiabetic properties, and they serve as an alternative treatment for metabolic diseases. In this work, an affinity-based bioassay was found to be effective for selecting PPAR ligands from the dried extract of an African plant (Diospyros bipindensis). Among the ligands, we identified betulinic acid (BA), a compound already known for its anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour and antidiabetic properties, as a PPARγ and PPARα antagonist. Cell differentiation assays showed that BA inhibits adipogenesis and promotes osteogenesis; either downregulates or does not affect the expression of a series of adipogenic markers; and up-regulates the expression of osteogenic markers. Moreover, BA increases basal glucose uptake in 3T3-L1 adipocytes. The crystal structure of the complex of BA with PPARγ sheds light, at the molecular level, on the mechanism by which BA antagonizes PPARγ, and indicates a unique binding mode of this antagonist type. The results of this study show that the natural compound BA could be an interesting and safe candidate for the treatment of type 2 diabetes and bone diseases.
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