A novel analgesic isolated from a traditional Chinese medicine

Curr Biol. 2014 Jan 20;24(2):117-123. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.11.039. Epub 2014 Jan 2.


Background: Current pain management is limited, in particular, with regard to chronic pain. In an attempt to discover novel analgesics, we combined the approach developed to characterize traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), as part of the "herbalome" project, with the reverse pharmacology approach aimed at discovering new endogenous transmitters and hormones.

Results: In a plant used for centuries for its analgesic properties, we identify a compound, dehydrocorybulbine (DHCB), that is effective at alleviating thermally induced acute pain. We synthesize DHCB and show that it displays moderate dopamine receptor antagonist activities. By using selective pharmacological compounds and dopamine receptor knockout (KO) mice, we show that DHCB antinociceptive effect is primarily due to its interaction with D2 receptors, at least at low doses. We further show that DHCB is effective against inflammatory pain and injury-induced neuropathic pain and furthermore causes no antinociceptive tolerance.

Conclusions: Our study casts DHCB as a different type of analgesic compound and as a promising lead in pain management.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alkaloids / chemistry
  • Alkaloids / isolation & purification
  • Alkaloids / pharmacology*
  • Analgesics / chemistry
  • Analgesics / isolation & purification
  • Analgesics / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Corydalis / chemistry*
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / complications
  • Isoquinolines / chemistry
  • Isoquinolines / isolation & purification
  • Isoquinolines / pharmacology*
  • Male
  • Medicine, Chinese Traditional*
  • Mice
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Pain / etiology


  • Alkaloids
  • Analgesics
  • Isoquinolines
  • dehydrocorybulbine