Dysosma versipellis (Hance) is a famous traditional Chinese medicine for the treatment of snakebite, weakness, condyloma accuminata, lymphadenopathy, and tumors for thousands of years. In this work, four podophyllotoxin-like lignans including 4'-demethylpodophyllotoxin (1), α-peltatin (2), podophyllotoxin (3), β-peltatin (4) as major cytotoxic principles of D. versipellis were successfully isolated and purified by several novel linear and step gradient counter-current chromatography methods using the systems of hexane/ethyl acetate/methanol/water (4:6:3:7 and 4:6:4:6, v/v/v/v). Compared with isocratic elution, linear and step-gradient elution can provide better resolution and save more time for the separation of photophyllotoxin and its congeners. Their cytotoxicities were further evaluated and their structures were validated by high-resolution electrospray TOF MS and nuclear magnetic resonance spectra. All components showed potent anticancer activity against human hepatoma cells HepG2.
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