Structural-Activity Relationship of Ginsenosides from Steamed Ginseng in the Treatment of Erectile Dysfunction

Am J Chin Med. 2018;46(1):137-155. doi: 10.1142/S0192415X18500088. Epub 2018 Jan 3.


Ginseng has been reported to have diverse pharmacological effects. One of the therapeutic claims for ginseng is to enhance sexual function. Ginsenosides are considered as the major active constituents. A steaming process can alter the ginsenoside profile of ginseng products. The structure-function relationship of ginsenosides in the treatment of erectile dysfunction (ED) has not been investigated yet. In this work, 15 different processed ginsengs are produced by steaming, and 13 major ginsensosides are quantified by liquid chromatography with UV detection, including Rg1, Re, Rf, Rb1, Rc, Rb2, Rf, Rk3, Rh4, 20S-Rg3, 20R-Rg3, Rk1, and Rg5. Their anti-ED activities are screened using hydrocortisone-induced mice model (Kidney Yang Deficiency Syndrome in Chinese Medicine) and primary corpus cavernosum smooth muscle cells (CCSMCs). A processed ginseng with steaming treatment at 120[Formula: see text]C for 4[Formula: see text]h and five times possesses abundant ginsenosides Rk1, Rk3, Rh4 and Rg5 transformed via deglycosylation and dehydroxylation, and produces optimal activity against ED. The number of sugar molecules, structure of hydroxyl groups and stereoselectivity in ginsenosides affect their anti-ED activity. Among the 13 ginsenosides, Rk1, Rk3, Rh4 and Rg5 are the most efficient in decreasing intracellular calcium levels by inhibiting phosphodiesterase 5A (PDE5A) to reduce the degradation of cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) in CCSMCs. Rg5 also restrain hypoxia inducible factor-1[Formula: see text] (HIF-1[Formula: see text] expression in hypoxia state, and increase endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS) expression in isolated rat cavernous tissue. These observations suggest a role for steamed ginseng containing two pairs of geometric isomers (i.e., Rk1/Rg5 and Rk3/Rh4) in the treatment of ED.

Keywords: Corpus Cavernosum Smooth Muscle Cells (CCSMCs); Erectile Dysfunction; Ginsenosides; PDE5A; Steamed Ginseng; Structural–Activity Relationship; cGMP; eNOS.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cyclic GMP / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Erectile Dysfunction / drug therapy*
  • Ginsenosides / administration & dosage*
  • Ginsenosides / isolation & purification*
  • Ginsenosides / pharmacology*
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1, alpha Subunit / metabolism
  • Isomerism
  • Male
  • Mice, Inbred ICR
  • Myocytes, Smooth Muscle / drug effects
  • Myocytes, Smooth Muscle / metabolism
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type III / metabolism
  • Panax / chemistry*
  • Phosphodiesterase 5 Inhibitors
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Steam*
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Temperature


  • Ginsenosides
  • Hif1a protein, rat
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1, alpha Subunit
  • Phosphodiesterase 5 Inhibitors
  • Steam
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type III
  • Nos3 protein, rat
  • Cyclic GMP
  • Calcium