Milk thistle seed extract protects rat C6 astroglial cells from acute cocaine toxicity

Mol Med Rep. 2014 Nov;10(5):2287-92. doi: 10.3892/mmr.2014.2524. Epub 2014 Aug 28.


Cocaine is a powerful addictive drug, widely abused in most Western countries. It easily reaches various domains within and outside of the central nervous system (CNS), and triggers varying levels of cellular toxicity. No pharmacological treatment is available to alleviate cocaine-induced toxicity in the cells without side-effects. Here, we discerned the role of milk thistle (MT) seed extract against cocaine toxicity. First, we investigated acute cytotoxicity induced by treatment with 2, 3 and 4 mM cocaine for 1 h in astroglial, liver and kidney cells in vitro, and then in living shrimp larvae in vivo. We showed that astroglial cells are more sensitive to cocaine than liver, kidney cells or larvae. Cocaine exposure disrupted the general architecture of astroglial cells, induced vacuolation, decreased cell viability, and depleted the glutathione (GSH) level. These changes may represent the underlying pathology of cocaine in the astrocytes. By contrast, MT pretreatment (200 µg/ml) for 30 min sustained the cell morphological features and increased both cell viability and the GSH level. Besides its protective effects, the MT extract was revealed to be non-toxic to astroglial cells, and displayed high free-radical scavenging activity. The results from this study suggest that enhanced GSH level underlies cell protection, and indicate that compounds that promote GSH synthesis in the cells may be beneficial against cocaine toxicity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Artemia
  • Astrocytes / drug effects
  • Astrocytes / physiology
  • Cell Shape / drug effects
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cocaine / toxicity*
  • Dogs
  • Free Radical Scavengers / chemistry
  • Free Radical Scavengers / pharmacology*
  • Glutathione / metabolism
  • Illicit Drugs / toxicity*
  • Madin Darby Canine Kidney Cells
  • Milk Thistle / chemistry*
  • Plant Extracts / chemistry
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology*
  • Rats
  • Seeds / chemistry*
  • Vacuoles / drug effects


  • Free Radical Scavengers
  • Illicit Drugs
  • Plant Extracts
  • Glutathione
  • Cocaine