Licorice, derived from the dried roots and rhizomes of several species of genus Glycyrrhiza L. (Leguminosae family), has been traditionally used in herbal medicine for over 4000 years. In recent years, the interest in antioxidative constituents in licorice has greatly increased. In this work, a new method based on 1,1-diphenyl-2-picrylhydrazyl radical (DPPH) spiking test combined with HPLC coupled with electrospray ionization quadrupole time-of-flight tandem mass spectrometry (Q-TOF MS/MS) analysis was developed to screen and identify the antioxidants in licorice. The results of the method validation indicated that the developed method was reliable and repeatable. Compared with DPPH on-line method, the HPLC-Q-TOF MS/MS method combined with DPPH spiking test offered much higher sensitivity and resolution. Using this method, 35 radical scavengers were screened from four Glycyrrhiza species (G. inflata, G. glabra, G. pallidiflora and G. uralensis), and 21 of them were unambiguously or tentatively identified by HPLC-Q-TOF MS/MS. Among the 21 identified flavonoids, 10 compounds had been reported to possess antioxidative activities in the previous studies, and the radical scavenging activities of the other 11 compounds were reported for the first time. The effects of six purified flavonoids on DPPH radical and lipid peroxidation were evaluated for validation of the developed method. The results indicated that HPLC-Q-TOF MS/MS coupled with DPPH treatment is an efficient and powerful method to discover the potential antioxidative compounds from the complex natural product mixtures. In this study, the identified components with free radical scavenging activity, would help to explain the therapeutic benefit of licorice in the treatment of human disease associated with oxidative stress.
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