Isoliquiritigenin, a flavonoid from licorice, relaxes guinea-pig tracheal smooth muscle in vitro and in vivo: role of cGMP/PKG pathway

Eur J Pharmacol. 2008 Jun 10;587(1-3):257-66. doi: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2008.03.015. Epub 2008 Mar 29.


Licorice root is used to treat asthma as a component of Shaoyao-Gancao-tang, a traditional Chinese medicine formula. In this study, we investigated the tracheal relaxation effects of isoliquiritigenin, a flavonoid isolated from the roots of Glycyrrhiza glabra (a kind of Licorice), on guinea-pig tracheal smooth muscle in vitro and in vivo. The tension changes of isolated tracheal rings were isometrically recorded on a polygraph. The large-conductance Ca2+-activated K+ channels (BKCa) were measured by inside-out patch-clamp techniques and intracellular Ca2+concentrations ([Ca2+]i) were tested by microfluorometric method in guinea-pig tracheal smooth muscle cells (TSMCs). Isoliquiritigenin produced concentration-dependent relaxation in isolated guinea-pig tracheal rings precontracted with acetylcholine, KCl, and histamine. Pretreatments with charybdotoxin, ODQ and KT5823 attenuated the relaxation induced by isoliquiritigenin. Isoliquiritigenin significantly increased intracellular cGMP level in cultured TSMCs and inhibited the activity of phosphodiesterase (PDE) 5 in human platelets. Moreover, isoliquiritigenin increased by 9-fold the probability of BKCa channel openings of TSMCs in inside-out patches and markedly reduced [Ca2+]i rise induced by acetylcholine inTSMCs, pretreatment with KT5823 attenuated above two responses to isoliquiritigenin. In vivo experiment isoliquiritigenin significantly prolonged the latency time of histamine-acetylcholine aerosol-induced collapse and inhibited the increase of lung overflow induced by intravenously administered histamine dose-dependently. These data indicate that isoliquiritigenin relaxes guinea-pig trachea through a multiple of intracellular actions, including sGC activation, inhibition of PDEs, and associated activation of the cGMP/PKG signaling cascade, leading to the opening of BKCa channels and [Ca2+]i decrease through PKG-dependent mechanism and thus to tracheal relaxation.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chalcones / pharmacology*
  • Cyclic GMP / physiology*
  • Cyclic GMP-Dependent Protein Kinases / physiology*
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Epithelium / physiology
  • Female
  • Glycyrrhiza / chemistry*
  • Guinea Pigs
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Isometric Contraction / drug effects
  • Male
  • Muscle Relaxation / drug effects
  • Muscle, Smooth / drug effects*
  • Myocytes, Smooth Muscle / drug effects
  • Nitric Oxide / physiology
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Phosphoric Diester Hydrolases / metabolism
  • Plant Roots / chemistry
  • Potassium Channels / drug effects
  • Potassium Channels / metabolism
  • Prostaglandins / physiology
  • Trachea / drug effects*


  • Chalcones
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Potassium Channels
  • Prostaglandins
  • Nitric Oxide
  • isoliquiritigenin
  • Cyclic GMP-Dependent Protein Kinases
  • Phosphoric Diester Hydrolases
  • Cyclic GMP
  • Calcium