Identifying 2 Prenylflavanones as Potential Hepatotoxic Compounds in the Ethanol Extract of Sophora flavescens



Zhixue capsule is a prescription for hemorrhoid commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine. This drug was recalled by the State Food and Drug Administration in 2008 because of severe adverse hepatic reactions. Zhixue capsule is composed of ethanol extracts of Cortex Dictamni (ECD) and Sophora flavescens (ESF). In our preliminary study, we observed the hepatotoxic effects of ESF on rat primary hepatocytes. However, ECD did not exhibit hepatotoxicity at the same concentration range. In this study, ESF was evaluated for its potential hepatotoxic effects on rats. Bioassay-guided isolation was used to identify the material basis for hepatotoxicity. Treatment with 1.25 g/kg and 2.5 g/kg ESF significantly elevated the alanine aminotransferase and aspartate aminotransferase levels in the serum. The changes in the levels of transaminases were supported by the remarkable fatty degeneration of liver histopathology. Further investigations using bioassay-guided isolation and analysis indicated that prenylated flavanones accounted for the positive hepatotoxic results. Two isolated compounds were identified, kurarinone and sophoraflavanone G, using nuclear magnetic resonance and mass spectrometry techniques. These compounds have potent toxic effects on primary rat hepatocytes (with IC50 values of 29.9 μM and 16.5 μM) and human HL-7702 liver cells (with IC50 values of 48.2 μM and 40.3 μM), respectively. Consequently, the hepatotoxic constituents of S. flavescens were determined to be prenylated flavanones, kurarinone, and sophoraflavanone G.