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Comparative analysis of toxic components in different medicinal parts of Gynura japonica and its toxicity assessment on mice

Journal name:Phytomedicine
Literature No.:
Literature Url: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0944711318302010
Date publication:15 February 2019


The roots of Gynura japonica are used as traditional medicine for treating blood stasis or traumatic injury even though hundreds of hepatic sinusoidal obstruction syndrome cases have been reported after consumption of the roots, which contain large amounts of hepatotoxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids(HPAs). However, no information is available about the toxic compounds in the aerial parts of G. japonica, which are also used as herbal medicines and even vegetables in several areas. Thus, the toxic chemicals in the aerial parts of G. japonica, i.e., HPAs, must be urgently identified.


In this study, we aimed to 1) identify the toxic compounds in different medicinal parts and 2) examine the hepatotoxicity of G. japonica.

Study design

A total of 35 batches of the roots and aerial parts of G. japonica were collected from different sources and analyzed for HPAs. The hepatotoxicity of different extracts (i.e., total extracts [TE] and total alkaloids [TA]) and a single compound (i.e., senecionine) was evaluated on mice.


Qualitative analysis of HPAs was performed using an ultra-performance liquid chromatography (UPLC)-mass spectrometry (MS)-parent ion scan approach, whereas a quantitative assay was performed by a UPLC-MS-selected ion monitoring approach. Male C57BL mice were orally administered the different extracts or the single compound at dosages equivalent to 50  mg HPAs/kg body weight. The sera and the livers were collected at 48  h after treatment and used to evaluate the hepatotoxicity through serum clinical biomarkers assay, liver histology, and bile acid profiling.


A total of 21 HPAs were identified in the roots and the aerial parts. The roots contained higher levels of HPAs (4.90  mg/g) than did the aerial parts (2.21 mg/g). TE and TA induced similar acute liver injuries, but senecioninewas considerably more toxic than these extracts. Mice treated with TE showed significantly impaired bile acid homeostasis in the sera and the livers.


The roots and aerial parts of G. japonica contained large amounts of HPAs, including senecionine, which were responsible for the hepatotoxicity of G. japonica. Bile acid homeostasis was uniquely impaired after exposure to the plant. Therefore, neither the roots nor the aerial parts of G. japonica should be consumed as medicines or vegetables.

… 2014 ; Xiong et al., 2014a). Senecionine, seneciphylline, and their N-oxides were purchased from Chengdu Biopurify Phytochemicals, Ltd. (Sichuan, PR China). Senecionine was of over 95% purity (Suppl. Fig. S1) and used as …