Spiranthera odoratissima A. St. Hil. (manacá) is used in folk medicine to treat renal and hepatic diseases, stomachache, headaches and rheumatism. A central nervous system (CNS) depressant effect of the hexane fraction from the ethanolic extract of this plant has been described. β-caryophyllene, the main component of this essential oil, is a sesquiterpene compound with anti-inflammatory properties that has been found in essential oils derived from several medicinal plants. This work is aimed to evaluate the pharmacological activity of the essential oil obtained from S. odoratissima leaves (EO) and its major component on the murine CNS; we aimed to evaluate a possible anxiolytic-like effect and the underlying mechanisms involved. In an open field test, EO (500 mg/kg) and β-caryophyllene (50, 100 and 200 mg/kg) increased the crossing frequency (P<0.05) and, EO (250 and 500 mg/kg) and β-caryophyllene (200 mg/kg) increased the time spent in the center (P<0.05) without altering total crossings of the open field. EO and β-caryophyllene did not alter the number of falls in the rota-rod test (P>0.05). In the pentobarbital-induced sleep test, EO (500 mg/kg) and β-caryophyllene (200 and 400 mg/kg) decreased the latency to sleep (P<0.05), and EO (125, 250 and 500 mg/kg) (P<0.001) and β-caryophyllene (200 and 400 mg/kg) (P<0.05 and P<0.001) increased the sleep time. In anxiety tests, EO (500 mg/kg) and β-caryophyllene (100 and 200 mg/kg) increased head-dipping behavior (P<0.05) in the hole-board test, entries (P<0.05) into and time spent (P<0.05) on the open arms of the elevated plus maze (EPM), and number of transitions (P<0.05) and time spent in the light compartment (P<0.05) of a light-dark box (LDB). We further investigated the mechanism of action underlying the anxiolytic-like effect of EO and β-caryophyllene by pre-treating animals with antagonists of benzodiazepine (flumazenil) and 5-HT(1A) (NAN-190) receptors prior to evaluation using EPM and LDB. The anxiolytic-like effects of EO were significantly reduced by pre-treatment with NAN-190 (P<0.05) but not flumazenil (P>0.05). The anxiolytic-like effects of β-caryophyllene were not blocked by either NAN-190 or flumazenil (P>0.05). In conclusion, these results suggest that the essential oil derived from S. odoratissima produces an anxiolytic-like effect without altering motor performance and that this effect is mediated by 5-HT(1A) but not via benzodiazepine receptors. In addition, the major component, β-caryophyllene, also has an anxiolytic-like effect that may contribute to the effects of EO, but this effect does not seem to be mediated via 5-HT(1A) or benzodiazepine receptors.
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