Comparison of a specific HPLC determination of toxic aconite alkaloids in processed Radix aconiti with a titration method of total alkaloids

Pharm Biol. 2011 Oct;49(10):1097-101. doi: 10.3109/13880209.2011.595011.


Context: In traditional Chinese medicine, Aconitum (Ranunculaceae) roots are only applied after processing. Nevertheless, several cases of poisoning by improperly processed aconite roots have been reported.

Objective: The aim of this study was to develop a reliable analytical method to assess the amount of toxic aconite alkaloids in commercial aconite roots, and to compare this method with the commonly used total alkaloid content determination by titration.

Materials and methods: The content of mesaconitine, aconitine, and hypaconitine in 16 commercial samples of processed aconite roots was determined by an HPLC method and the total alkaloid content by indirect titration. Five samples were selected for in vivo toxicological investigation.

Results: In most of the commercial samples, toxic alkaloids were not detectable, or only traces were found. In four samples, we could detect >0.04% toxic aconite alkaloids, the highest with a content of 0.16%. The results of HPLC analysis were compared with the results obtained by titration, and no correlation was found between the two methods. The in vivo results reassured the validity of the HPLC determination.

Discussion and conclusion: Samples with mesaconitine, aconitine, and hypaconitine content below the HPLC detection limit still contained up to 0.2% alkaloids determined by titration. Since titration of alkaloids gives no information selectively on the aconitine-type alkaloid content and toxicity of aconite roots this method is not appropriate for safety assessment. The HPLC method developed by us provides a quick and reliable assessment of toxicity and should be considered as a purity test in pharmacopoeia monographs.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aconitine / analysis
  • Aconitine / chemistry*
  • Aconitine / toxicity
  • Aconitum / chemistry*
  • Aconitum / metabolism
  • Aconitum / toxicity
  • Alkaloids / analysis
  • Alkaloids / chemistry*
  • Alkaloids / toxicity
  • Animals
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid / methods*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal / analysis
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal / chemistry
  • Male
  • Mice


  • Alkaloids
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal
  • Aconitine