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Compound From Chinese Herb Fights Chronic Pain

A plant used for centuries as a pain reliever in Chinese medicine has been found effective at alleviating pain, according to researchers.

| January 6, 2014 | In the Lab

AsianScientist (Jan. 6, 2014) – A compound derived from a traditional Chinese herbal medicine has been found effective at alleviating pain, pointing the way to a new non-addictive analgesic for acute inflammatory and nerve pain.

Working with colleagues from the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics in China, Olivier Civelli from UC Irvine in the United States isolated a compound called dehydrocorybulbine (DHCB) from the roots of the Corydalis yanhusuo plant. The results of the study appear in the journal Current Biology.

In tests on rodents, DHCB proved to diminish both inflammatory pain, which is associated with tissue damage and the infiltration of immune cells, and injury-induced neuropathic pain, which is caused by damage to the nervous system. This is important because there are no current adequate treatments for neuropathic pain.

Moreover, the researchers found that DHCB did not generate the tolerance seen with continued use of most conventional pain relievers, such as morphine.

“Today the pharmaceutical industry struggles to find new drugs. Yet for centuries people have used herbal remedies to address myriad health conditions, including pain. Our objective was to identify compounds in these herbal remedies that may help us discover new ways to treat health problems,” said Civelli, the Eric L. & Lila D. Nelson chair in Neuropharmacology.

Across the Pacific Ocean, Xinmiao Liang at the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics and his group have been working to create an “herbalome” of all the compounds in plant extracts that display pharmacological properties. The UC Irvine team suggested applying “reverse pharmacology” – a novel drug discovery approach that Civelli devised about 25 years ago – to the herbalome project.

Together they screened ten traditional Chinese medicines known as analgesics, testing nearly 500 compounds for their pain-relief abilities. Only DHCB in corydalis induced a reproducible effect.

Corydalis is a flowering herbal plant that grows in Siberia, Northern China and Japan. People utilize its root extract to alleviate menstrual cramps, chest pain and abdominal pain. It’s been previously studied for its analgesic properties, but this is the first time DHCB has been identified, extracted and tested.

DHCB needs to be evaluated for any toxicity before it can be developed as a drug for chronic neuropathic pain. It’s also possible that if the compound is chemically modified, a more potent pharmaceutical may be found. While DHCB is not currently available, it is part of the Corydalis yanhusuo root or extracts that can be purchased in health stores or online.

The article can be found at: Zhang Y et al. (2014) A Novel Analgesic Isolated from a Traditional Chinese Medicine.

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Source: UC Irvine; Photo: davidshort/Flickr/CC.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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