Isoliquiritigenin (ILTG) is a chalcone compound and has valuable pharmacological properties such as antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and antiallergic activities. Recently, the anxiolytic effect of ILTG has been reported; however, its action mechanism and hypnotic activity have not yet been demonstrated. Therefore, we investigated the hypnotic effect and action mechanism of ILTG. ILTG significantly potentiated the pentobarbital-induced sleep in mice at doses of 25 and 50mg/kg. The hypnotic activity of ILTG was fully inhibited by flumazenil (FLU), a specific gamma-aminobutyric acid type A (GABA(A))-benzodiazepine (BZD) receptor antagonist. The binding affinity of ILTG was 0.453 μM and was found to be higher than that of the reference compound, diazepam (DZP, 0.012 μM). ILTG (10(-5)M) potentiated GABA-evoked currents to 151% of the control level on isolated dorsal raphe neurons. ILTG has 65 times higher affinity for GABA(A)-BZD receptors than DZP, and the dissociation constant for ILTG was 4.0 × 10(-10)M. The effect of ILTG on GABA currents was blocked by 10(-7)M FLU and ZK-93426. These results suggest that ILTG produces hypnotic effects by positive allosteric modulation of GABA(A)-BZD receptors.
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