Determination of major boswellic acids in plasma by high-pressure liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry

J Pharm Biomed Anal. 2011 Dec 15;56(5):998-1005. doi: 10.1016/j.jpba.2011.07.026. Epub 2011 Jul 29.


Until now, dexamethasone is the medication of choice to reduce peritumoral edema associated with primary and secondary brain tumors. Because of the severe side effects accompanying such a treatment the interest in alternative agents that may be co-administered with glucocorticoids and help to reduce the required dose is constantly increasing. Boswellia serrata gum resin extracts (BSE), which have been designated an orphan drug status by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in 2002 for the treatment of peritumoral edema, may represent a promising supplemental herbal remedy. However, clinical studies on the effect of BSE on brain edema as well as analyzes of serum levels are very scarce. Based on that background a prospective, placebo controlled, and double blind clinical pilot trial was conducted on 14 patients applying for the first time a high dose of 4200 mg BSE per day and 13 patients receiving placebo. For monitoring the serum levels of all major boswellic acids (BAs) a highly sensitive HPLC-MS method has been developed that allows the determination of KBA and AKBA from 5.0 ng/ml to 3000 ng/ml and of αBA, βBA, AαBA and AβBA from 0.5 ng/ml to 12,000 ng/ml. It is the first validated method that covers such a wide concentration range, which makes it suitable to be used as standard method in clinical trials as it compensates for the great pharmacokinetic variability in the plasma levels of BAs observed in clinical practice. Average steady concentrations (ng/ml) in the range of 6.4-247.5 for KBA, 0-15.5 for AKBA, 36.7-4830.1 for αBA, 87.0-11948.5 for βBA, 73.4-2985.8 for AαBA and 131.4-6131.3 for AβBA were determined in the verum group. The here quantified steady state levels suggest βBA to be a possible candidate for the anti-inflammatory and anti-edemateous effects of BSE. In general, the serum level analysis underlines the promising clinical results of BSE on cerebral edema.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / blood*
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / pharmacokinetics
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid / methods*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Humans
  • Limit of Detection
  • Pilot Projects
  • Placebos
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Electrospray Ionization / methods*
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry / methods*
  • Triterpenes / blood*
  • Triterpenes / pharmacokinetics


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Placebos
  • Triterpenes
  • boswellic acid