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J Biochem Mol Toxicol. 2004;18(3):143-9.

Mechanistic studies on protopanaxadiol, Rh2, and ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) extract induced cytotoxicity in intestinal Caco-2 cells.

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Food, Nutrition and Health, Faculty of Agricultural Science, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada V6T 1Z4.


Certain ginsenosides, also known as triterpene glycosides, have been recently reported to have a characteristic effect on cultured intestinal and leukemia cell growth. Ginsenoside aglycones 20(S)-protopanaxadiol (PD), 20(S)-protopanaxatriol (PT), and ginsenoside Rh2 have been identified as having a strong effect on reducing cell viability. Furthermore, ginsenoside Rh2 is thought to be a rare ginsenoside not found in all ginseng products. Rather, Rh2 has been recently reported to be a breakdown product of thermal processing of North American ginseng. In this study, pure ginsenosides PD, PT, Rh2 standards and an enriched Rh2 fraction derived from ginseng leaf were tested in cultured Caco-2 cells for relative cytotoxic potency. PD and Rh2 LC50 were similar after 24 to 72 h, whereas a drop in PT LC50 occurred later at 48 and 72 h. Furthermore, PD and Rh2 affected membrane integrity as indicated by LDH secretion earlier than PT and the enriched Rh2 fraction (P < or = 0.05). Ginsenoside Rh2 showed the greatest (P < or = 0.05) build up of necrotic cells (18.3 +/- 0.1%) at the respective LC50 after 24 h and PD (21.3 +/- 0.3%) showed the largest effect after 44 h of exposure. The effect on apoptotic cells at 44 h of treatment were significantly different (P < or = 0.05) for Rh2 (21 +/- 0.4%), PD (14.6 +/- 0.1%), enriched Rh2 leaf fraction (9.9 +/- 0.6%), and PT (2.3 +/- 0.1%) treatments. Caco-2 caspase-3 activity was different between ginsenoside exposure; Rh2 (10.6 +/- 0.3 nM pNA) had the greatest (P < or = 0.05) activity followed by the enriched Rh2 leaf fraction (8.3 +/- 0.2 nM pNA), PT (7.3 +/- 0.3 nM pNA). The PD (4.8 +/- 0.04 nM pNA) treatment was similar to untreated cells (4.3 +/- 0.05 nM pNA) in caspase-3 activity. These results show variable bioactive response in cultured intestinal cell to specific ginsenosides and an enriched Rh2 North American ginseng extract which may be explained on basis of hydrophobic/hydrophilic balance.

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