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Ann Bot. 2006 Jul;98(1):57-65. Epub 2006 May 4.

Identification of oxalic acid and tartaric acid as major persistent pain-inducing toxins in the stinging hairs of the nettle, Urtica thunbergiana.

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  • 1Department of Life Science, College of Life Science, National Taiwan University, Taipei 106, Taiwan.

Abstract

BACKGROUND AND AIMS:

Once human skin contacts stinging hairs of Urtica spp. (stinging nettles), the irritant is released and produces pain, wheals or a stinging sensation which may last for >12 h. However, the existence of pain-inducing toxins in the stinging hairs of Urtica thunbergiana has never been systematically demonstrated. Experiments were therefore conducted to identify the persistent pain-inducing agents in the stinging hairs of U. thunbergiana.

METHODS:

The stinging hairs of U. thunbergiana were removed and immersed in deionized water. After centrifugation, the clear supernatants were then subjected to high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), enzymatic analysis and/or behavioural bioassays.

KEY RESULTS:

The HPLC results showed that the major constituents in the stinging hairs of U. thunbergiana were histamine, oxalic acid and tartaric acid. However, the well-recognized pain-inducing agents, serotonin and formic acid, existed at a low concentration as estimated by HPLC and/or enzymatic analyses. The behavioural tests showed that 2% oxalic acid and 10% tartaric acid dramatically elicited persistent pain sensations in rats. In contrast, 10% formic acid and 2% serotonin only elicited moderate pain sensation in the first 10 min. Moreover, no significant pain-related behavioural response was observed after injecting 10% acetylcholine and histamine in rats.

CONCLUSIONS:

Oxalic acid and tartaric acid were identified, for the first time, as major long-lasting pain-inducing toxins in the stinging hairs of U. thunbergiana. The general view that formic acid, histamine and serotonin are the pain-inducing agents in the stinging hairs of U. dioica may require updating, since their concentrations in U. thunbergiana were too low to induce significant pain sensation in behavioural bioassays.

PMID:
16675601
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC2803540
Free PMC Article
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