Compounds in Chinese Herbal Medicine May Treat Parkinson’s, Study Suggests

Patricia Inácio, PhD avatar

by Patricia Inácio, PhD |

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Chinese traditional medicine

Zhichan powder, a traditional Chinese medicine, contains several active compounds that may be of therapeutic value in Parkinson’s disease, researchers suggest.

Their study, “Network Pharmacology Analysis on Zhichan Powder in the Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease,” appeared in the journal Combinatorial Chemistry & High Throughput Screening.

Parkinson’s is characterized by the death of dopamine producing-nerve cells — those responsible for releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine — in the substantia nigra, a brain region that regulates muscle movement and coordination.

In Chinese traditional medicine, Zhichan is used to treat patients with Parkinson’s disease. Zhichan prescriptions are comprised of mix of herbs, including astragalus, ginseng, baishouwu, teasel, magnolia, Jurchen child, and chuanxiong.

A previous study in Parkinson’s patients suggested that Zhichan powder helped to ease disease symptoms, especially gait disturbances, tremor, speech disorder, poor self-care ability, and restricted movement.

Its therapeutic effects are thought to be related to its antioxidant properties. A preclinical study conducted in a rat model of Parkinson’s found that Zhichan powder was able to regulate the activity of two enzymes — monoamine oxidase B and tyrosine hydroxylase — in the substantia nigra. Treatment boosted the release of dopamine, resulting in a neuroprotective effect.

Yet, it is still unclear which bioactive molecules are behind Zhichan’s observed effects.

A team of researchers at the China-Japan Union Hospital of Jilin University, analyzed data from the Traditional Chinese Medicine Systems Pharmacology database — a platform of Chinese herbal medicines that captures the relationships between medicines, targets, and diseases.

Using a computational method, they were able to screen for Zhichan active compounds that could have a therapeutic effect in Parkinson’s disease.

“We identified 18 major active components in Zhichan powder through the screening method,” Jiajun Chen, a study author, said in a press release.

The computational approach allowed researchers to visualize clusters of chemical compounds in the Zhichan powder that seemed to have promising molecular activity.

The team believes there is a strong link between Zhichan’s chemical composition and treatment targets for Parkinson’s disease.

“[O]ur results provide a new perspective and method for revealing the mechanism of action of Traditional Chinese Medicine prescriptions,” the researchers concluded.