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Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2009 Jul;234(7):785-93. doi: 10.3181/0812-RM-354. Epub 2009 May 8.

Preventive action of Kai Xin San aqueous extract on depressive-like symptoms and cognition deficit induced by chronic mild stress.

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Research Center of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Peking Union Medical College Institute of Medicinal Plant Development, Beijing 100193, China.


Kai Xin San (KXS), a traditional Chinese herbal medicine, has been used clinically for the treatment of depressive disorders and cognitive impairment for centuries. However, the effects of KXS on cognitive dysfunction induced by depression have not been evaluated scientifically. The present study aimed to explore the antidepressant-like and nootropic effects of an aqueous extract of KXS (at doses of 0.3, 0.9, and 2.7 g/kg/day) using chronic mild stress (CMS) as a model of depression. Depressive symptoms were analyzed using the sucrose-preference and novelty-induced inhibition of feeding tests. Cognitive function was evaluated using a two-way active avoidance task. Serum corticosterone and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) levels, acetylcholinesterase (AChE) protein expression in the hippocampus, and monoamine neurotransmitter concentrations in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus were also determined to elucidate the neurochemical mechanisms. Experimental results showed that KXS aqueous extract significantly ameliorated the CMS-induced depressive symptoms, including the reduced preference index and prolonged latency to novelty-suppressed feeding. Simultaneously, KXS significantly reversed the CMS-induced decrease in the numbers of active avoidance and active movement distances and increase in the numbers of the passive avoidance and passive movement distances, thereby producing nootropic effects in the two-way active avoidance test. KXS also inhibited the increased AChE expression in the hippocampus, up-regulated the decreased monoamine neurotransmitter concentrations of both brain areas and reduced the elevated ACTH concentrations in the serum induced by CMS. Taken together, these results indicate that KXS exerts its antidepressant-like and nootropic effects in the CMS model by modulating the HPA axis, monoamine neurotransmitter and cholinergic systems.

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