Journal Article

Cytotoxicity Assessment of Ma-huang (<i>Ephedra</i>) under Different Conditions of Preparation

M. K. Lee, B. W. H. Cheng, C. T. Che and D. P. H. Hsieh

in Toxicological Sciences

Volume 56, issue 2, pages 424-430
Published in print August 2000 | ISSN: 1096-6080
Published online August 2000 | e-ISSN: 1096-0929 | DOI:
Cytotoxicity Assessment of Ma-huang (Ephedra) under Different Conditions of Preparation

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Ma-huang is a traditional Chinese medicinal herb derived from Ephedra sinica Stapf and other Ephedra species, used to treat asthma, nose and lung congestion, and fever with anhidrosis. It contains 0.5–2.5% by weight of total alkaloids, of which ephedrine accounts for 30 to 90%. Recently, large amounts of ma-huang were used as a source of ephedrine in many dietary supplements formulated for weight reduction, because ephedrine has been found effective in inducing weight loss in diet-restricted obese patients. However, indiscriminate consumption of ma-huang–containing products has resulted in many cases of poisoning, some of which were fatal. The objective of this study is to investigate the relative toxicity of ma-huang extracted under different conditions. The toxicities of various extracts were assayed using MTT colorimetry on a battery of cell lines, while ephedrine alkaloids were analyzed with HPLC. The results are summarized as follows. (1) The cytotoxicity of all ma-huang extracts could not be totally accounted for by their ephedrine contents, suggesting the presence of other toxins in the extracts. (2) Grinding was a significant condition enhancing the toxicity of the extracts. (3) The relatively high sensitivity of the Neuro-2a cell line to the toxicity of ma-huang extracts suggests that the toxic principles were acting on neuronal cells. (4) One condition to produce a ma-huang extract with high ephedrine-to-toxins ratio would be to boil the whole herb for two h.

Keywords: cytotoxicity; Ephedra; ephedrine; ephedrine-to-toxins ratio; herb preparations; ma-huang; MTT colorimetry.

Journal Article.  4966 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Medical Toxicology ; Toxicology (Non-medical)

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