Chrysin (5,7-di-OH-flavone) was identified in Passiflora coerulea L., a plant used as a sedative in folkloric medicine. Chrysin was found to be a ligand for the benzodiazepine receptors, both central (Ki = 3 microM, competitive mechanism) and peripheral (Ki = 13 microM, mixed-type mechanism). Administered to mice by the intracerebroventricular route, chrysin was able to prevent the expression of tonic-clonic seizures induced by pentylenetertrazol. Ro 15-1788, a central benzodiazepine receptor antagonist, abolished this effect. In addition, all of the treated mice lose the normal righting reflex which suggests a myorelaxant action of the flavonoid. The presence in P. coerulea of benzodiazepine-like compounds was also confirmed.