In this study, the 10 accessions of rhubarb seeds from different habitats in China were investigated. Lipids were removed using petroleum ether, and the effective components were then separated using accelerated solvent extraction with 80% aqueous methanol. An off-line 2,2-diphenyl-1-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH) free-radical scavenging method was used as the marker to evaluate the total antioxidant capability of extracts. On-line high-performance liquid chromatography-diode-array detectors-electrospray ionization-tandem mass spectrometry (HPLC-DAD-ESI-MS(n)) and HPLC-DAD-DPPH assays were developed for rapid identification and quantification of individual free-radical scavengers in extracts of rhubarb seeds. Ten free-radical scavengers from methanolic extracts of the rhubarb seeds were screened, five of which were identified and quantitatively analyzed: epicatechin, myricetin, hyperoside, quercitrin and quercetin. All were identified in rhubarb seeds for the first time and can be regarded as the major potent antioxidants in rhubarb seeds due to representing most of the total free-radical scavenging activity. Preliminary analysis of structures was performed for another five antioxidants. Based on our validation results, the developed method can be used for rapid separation, convenient identification and quantification of the multiple antioxidative constituents in rhubarb seeds, featuring good quantification parameters, accuracy and precision. The results are important to clarify the material basis and therapeutic mechanism of rhubarb seeds.
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