Ethnopharmacological relevance: Shakuyakukanzoto (SKT) composed of Glycyrrhizae radix (G. radix) and Paeoniae radix (P. radix) has been traditionally used in Japan, Korea and China as an antispasmodic drug for the treatment of skeletal muscle cramps and intestinal cramps.
Aim of this study: To evaluate the antispasmodic activity of SKT and its two components, as well as to identify the key constituents of the components which mediate this effect in skeletal muscles in vivo.
Materials and methods: An experimental cramp model was constructed to evaluate the effects of peripherally-acting muscle relaxants on electrically-induced cramps under physiological conditions. This was accomplished by surgically isolating the motor supply to the gastrocnemius muscle in an anesthetized rat and delivering electrical stimuli to an isolated tibial nerve to induce tetanic contractions. We first tested dantrolene, a well-known peripherally-acting relaxant, to determine the sensitivity and reliability of our experimental model. We then evaluated the effects of SKT, P. radix, G. radix, and the eight active constituents of G. radix against tetanic contractions.
Results: We found that dantrolene (10 and 30 mg/kg, i.d.) rapidly and significantly inhibited tetanic contractions (P<0.01) irrespective of dose. SKT (0.5, 1.0, and 2.0 g/kg, i.d.) and G. radix (0.5 and 1.0 g/kg, i.d.) also significantly inhibited tetanic contractions (P<0.01) but in a dose-dependent manner owing to the actions of six of the eight active constituents in G. radix (liquiritin apioside, liquiritigenin, isoliquiritin apioside, isoliquiritigenin, glycycoumarin, and glycyrrhetinic acid, 20 μmol/kg, i.v.). These constituents, which include flavonoids, a triterpenoid, and a courmarin derivative, demonstrated temporal variations in their inhibitory activity. In contrast, P. radix (0.5 and 1.0 g/kg, i.d.) did not show a statistically significant antispasmodic effect in our study; however, we previously found that it had a significant antinociceptive effect.
Conclusions: Our findings show that SKT inhibits tetanic contractions in vivo and that G. radix is the main antispasmodic component due to the actions of its active constituents, thus supporting the traditional use of SKT. We further propose that SKT containing the antispasmodic G. radix and antinociceptive P. radix is a pharmaceutically elegant option for muscle cramps as treatment requires a two-pronged approach, i.e., inhibition of hyperexcitable skeletal tissues and modulation of the pain accompanying cramps.
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