Role of hyperforin in the pharmacological activities of St. John's Wort

CNS Drug Rev. Fall 2004;10(3):203-18. doi: 10.1111/j.1527-3458.2004.tb00022.x.


The phloroglucinol derivative hyperforin has been recently shown to be a major antidepressant component in the extract of Hypericum perforatum. Experimental studies clearly demonstrated its activity in different behavioral models of depression. Moreover clinical studies linked the therapeutic efficacy of Hypericum extracts to their hyperforin content, in a dose-dependent manner. The molecular mechanism of action of hyperforin is still under investigation. Hyperforin has been shown to inhibit, like conventional antidepressants, the neuronal uptake of serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. However, hyperforin inhibits also the uptake of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and L-glutamate. The uptake inhibition by hyperforin does not involve specific binding sites at the transporter molecules; its mechanism of action seems to be related to sodium conductive pathways, leading to an elevation in intracellular Na(+) concentration. Other additional mechanisms of action of hyperforin, involving ionic conductances as well synaptosomal and vesicular function, have been suggested. In addition to its antidepressant activity, hyperforin has many other pharmacological effects in vivo (anxiolytic-like, cognition-enhancing effects) and in vitro (antioxidant, anticyclooxygenase-1, and anticarcinogenic effects). These effects could be of clinical importance. On the other hand, the role of hyperforin in the pharmacological interactions occurring during Hypericum extract therapy must be fully investigated. Hyperforin seems to be responsible for the induction of liver cytochrome oxidase enzymes and intestinal P-glycoprotein. Several pharmacokinetic studies performed in rats and humans demonstrated oral bioavailability of hyperforin from Hypericum extract. Only recently a new chromatographic method for detection of hyperforin in the brain tissue has been developed and validated. Taking into account the chemical instability of hyperforin, current efforts are directed to the synthesis of new neuroactive derivatives.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antidepressive Agents / chemistry
  • Antidepressive Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Bridged Bicyclo Compounds / chemistry
  • Bridged Bicyclo Compounds / pharmacology*
  • Bridged Bicyclo Compounds / therapeutic use
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Depression / drug therapy
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Drug Interactions
  • Humans
  • Hypericum / chemistry*
  • Phloroglucinol / analogs & derivatives*
  • Phloroglucinol / chemistry
  • Phloroglucinol / pharmacology*
  • Phloroglucinol / therapeutic use
  • Terpenes / chemistry
  • Terpenes / pharmacology*
  • Terpenes / therapeutic use


  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Bridged Bicyclo Compounds
  • Terpenes
  • Phloroglucinol
  • hyperforin