Antitussive activity of Withania somnifera and opioid receptors

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2015;838:19-25. doi: 10.1007/5584_2014_79.


Arabinogalactan is a polysaccharide isolated from the roots of the medicinal plant Withania somnifera L. It contains 65% arabinose and 18% galactose. The aim of the present study was to evaluate the antitussive activity of arabinogalactan in conscious, healthy adult guinea pigs and the role of the opioid pathway in the antitussive action. A polysaccharide extract was given orally in a dose of 50 mg/kg. Cough was induced by an aerosol of citric acid in a concentration 0.3 mol/L, generated by a jet nebulizer into a plethysmographic chamber. The intensity of cough response was defined as the number of cough efforts counted during a 3-min exposure to the aerosol. The major finding was that arabinogalactan clearly suppressed the cough reflex; the suppression was comparable with that of codeine that was taken as a reference drug. The involvement of the opioid system was tested with the use of a blood-brain barrier penetrable, naloxone hydrochloride, and non-penetrable, naloxone methiodide, to distinguish between the central and peripheral mu-opioid receptor pathways. Both opioid antagonists acted to reverse the arabinogalactan-induced cough suppression; the reversion was total over time with the latter antagonist. We failed to confirm the presence of a bronchodilating effect of the polysaccharide, which could be involved in its antitussive action. We conclude that the polysaccharide arabinogalactan from Withania somnifera has a distinct antitussive activity consisting of cough suppression and that this action involves the mu-opioid receptor pathways.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antitussive Agents / isolation & purification
  • Antitussive Agents / pharmacology*
  • Citric Acid
  • Codeine / pharmacology
  • Cough / chemically induced
  • Cough / drug therapy*
  • Cough / metabolism
  • Cough / physiopathology
  • Galactans / isolation & purification
  • Galactans / pharmacology*
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Male
  • Naloxone / analogs & derivatives
  • Naloxone / pharmacology
  • Narcotic Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Plant Extracts / isolation & purification
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology*
  • Plant Roots / chemistry
  • Quaternary Ammonium Compounds / pharmacology
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu / metabolism
  • Withania / chemistry*


  • Antitussive Agents
  • Galactans
  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Plant Extracts
  • Quaternary Ammonium Compounds
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu
  • Citric Acid
  • Naloxone
  • N-methylnaloxone
  • arabinogalactan
  • Codeine