Systems pharmacological study illustrates the immune regulation, anti-infection, anti-inflammation, and multi-organ protection mechanism of Qing-Fei-Pai-Du decoction in the treatment of COVID-19

Phytomedicine. 2021 May:85:153315. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2020.153315. Epub 2020 Sep 9.


Background: The traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) formula Qing-Fei-Pai-Du decoction (QFPDD) was the most widely used prescription in China's campaign to contain COVID-19, which has exhibited positive effects. However, the underlying mode of action is largely unknown.

Purpose: A systems pharmacology strategy was proposed to investigate the mechanisms of QFPDD against COVID-19 from molecule, pathway and network levels.

Study design and methods: The systems pharmacological approach consisted of text mining, target prediction, data integration, network study, bioinformatics analysis, molecular docking, and pharmacological validation. Especially, we proposed a scoring method to measure the confidence of targets identified by prediction and text mining, while a novel scheme was used to identify important targets from 4 aspects.

Results: 623 high-confidence targets of QFPDD's 12 active compounds were identified, 88 of which were overlapped with genes affected by SARS-CoV-2 infection. These targets were found to be involved in biological processes related with the development of COVID-19, such as pattern recognition receptor signaling, interleukin signaling, cell growth and death, hemostasis, and injuries of the nervous, sensory, circulatory, and digestive systems. Comprehensive network and pathway analysis were used to identify 55 important targets, which regulated 5 functional modules corresponding to QFPDD's effects in immune regulation, anti-infection, anti-inflammation, and multi-organ protection, respectively. Four compounds (baicalin, glycyrrhizic acid, hesperidin, and hyperoside) and 7 targets (AKT1, TNF-α, IL6, PTGS2, HMOX1, IL10, and TP53) were key molecules related to QFPDD's effects. Molecular docking verified that QFPDD's compounds may bind to 6 host proteins that interact with SARS-CoV-2 proteins, further supported the anti-virus effect of QFPDD. At last, in intro experiments validated QFPDD's important effects, including the inhibition of IL6, CCL2, TNF-α, NF-κB, PTGS1/2, CYP1A1, CYP3A4 activity, the up-regulation of IL10 expression, and repressing platelet aggregation.

Conclusion: This work illustrated that QFPDD could exhibit immune regulation, anti-infection, anti-inflammation, and multi-organ protection. It may strengthen the understanding of QFPDD and facilitate more application of this formula in the campaign to SARS-CoV-2.

Keywords: COVID-19; Drug target; Network pharmacology; Pathway; SARS-CoV-2; Traditional Chinese medicine.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacology
  • Antiviral Agents / pharmacology*
  • COVID-19 Drug Treatment
  • Computational Biology
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal / pharmacology*
  • Flavonoids / pharmacology
  • Glycyrrhizic Acid / pharmacology
  • Hesperidin / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medicine, Chinese Traditional
  • Mice
  • Molecular Docking Simulation
  • Quercetin / analogs & derivatives
  • Quercetin / pharmacology
  • RAW 264.7 Cells
  • Rabbits
  • SARS-CoV-2 / drug effects*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Antiviral Agents
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal
  • Flavonoids
  • baicalin
  • Glycyrrhizic Acid
  • hyperoside
  • Quercetin
  • Hesperidin