Traditionally, Echinacea preparations are used as antiinflammatory agents and immune-enhancers. In addition to these effects, their anxiolytic potency has been recognized recently in laboratory tests. Our aim in this study was to uncover the potential effects of an Echinacea preparation on neuronal operations in the hippocampus, a brain region that is involved in anxiety and anxiety-related behaviors. Using in vitro electrophysiological techniques, we observed that excitatory synaptic transmission in hippocampal slices was significantly suppressed by an Echinacea extract found to be effective in anxiety tests. In contrast, no change in inhibitory synaptic transmission could be detected upon application of this extract. In addition, our experiments revealed that at low concentration the Echinacea extract reduced the spiking activity of CA1 pyramidal cells, while at high concentration increased it. This latter observation was parallel to the reduction in the magnitude of the h-current-mediated voltage responses in pyramidal cells. At any concentrations, the passive membrane properties of CA1 pyramidal cells were found to be unaltered by the Echinacea extract. In summary, the Echinacea extract can significantly regulate excitatory, but not inhibitory, synaptic transmission in the hippocampus, and this action might be involved in its anxiolytic effects observed in behaviour tests.
Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.