Rhodiolae Crenulatae Radix et Rhizoma (Rhodiola), the root and rhizome of Rhodiola crenulata (Hook. f. et Thoms.) H. Ohba, has been used as a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to increase the body resistance to mountain sickness in preventing hypoxia; however, the functional ingredient responsible for this adaptogenic effect has not been revealed. Here, we have identified salidroside, a glycoside predominantly found in Rhodiola, is the chemical in providing such anti-hypoxia effect. Cultured human embryonic kidney fibroblast (HEK293T) and human hepatocellular carcinoma (HepG2) were used to reveal the mechanism of this hematopoietic function mediated by salidroside. The application of salidroside in cultures induced the expression of erythropoietin (EPO) mRNA from its transcription regulatory element hypoxia response element (HRE), located on EPO gene. The application of salidroside stimulated the accumulation of hypoxia-inducible factor-1α (HIF-1α) protein, but not HIF-2α protein: the salidroside-induced HIF-1α protein was via the reduction of HIF-1α degradation but not the mRNA induction. The increased HIF-1α could account for the activation of EPO gene. These results supported the notion that hematopoietic function of Rhodiola was triggered, at least partially, by salidroside.
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