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J Nat Prod. 2011 Jul 22;74(7):1621-9. doi: 10.1021/np200336g. Epub 2011 Jun 10.

Synergy-directed fractionation of botanical medicines: a case study with goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis).

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  • 1Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, The University of North Carolina Greensboro, P.O. Box 26170, Greensboro, North Carolina 27402, USA.


It is often argued that the efficacy of herbal medicines is a result of the combined action of multiple constituents that work synergistically or additively. Determining the bioactive constituents in these mixtures poses a significant challenge. We have developed an approach to address this challenge, synergy-directed fractionation, which combines comprehensive mass spectrometry profiling with synergy assays and natural products isolation. The applicability of synergy-directed fractionation was demonstrated using the botanical medicine goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) as a case study. Three synergists from goldenseal were identified, sideroxylin, 8-desmethyl-sideroxylin, and 6-desmethyl-sideroxylin. These flavonoids synergistically enhance the antimicrobial activity of the alkaloid berberine (also a constituent of H. canadensis) against Staphylococcus aureus by inhibition of the NorA multidrug resistance pump. The flavonoids possess no inherent antimicrobial activity against S. aureus; therefore, they could have been missed using traditional bioactivity-directed fractionation. The flavonoid synergists are present at higher concentration in extracts from H. canadensis leaves, while the antimicrobial alkaloid berberine is present at higher levels in H. canadensis roots. Thus, it may be possible to produce an extract with optimal activity against S. aureus using a combination of goldenseal roots and leaves.

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