Integrated Metabolomics and Network Pharmacology to Establish the Action Mechanism of Qingrekasen Granule for Treating Nephrotic Syndrome

Front Pharmacol. 2021 Dec 6;12:765563. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2021.765563. eCollection 2021.


Nephrotic syndrome (NS) is a clinical syndrome resulting from abnormal glomerular permeability, mainly manifesting as edema and proteinuria. Qingrekasen granule (QRKSG), a Chinese Uyghur folk medicine, is a single-flavor preparation made from chicory (Cichorium intybus L.), widely used in treating dysuria and edema. Chicory, the main component in QRKSG, effectively treats edema and protects kidneys. However, the active components in QRKSG and its underlying mechanism for treating NS remain unclear. This study explored the specific mechanism and composition of QRKSG on an NS rat model using integrated metabolomics and network pharmacology. First, metabolomics explored the relevant metabolic pathways impacted by QRKSG in the treatment of NS. Secondly, network pharmacology further explored the possible metabolite targets. Afterward, a comprehensive network was constructed using the results from the network pharmacology and metabolomics analysis. Finally, the interactions between the active components and targets were predicted by molecular docking, and the differential expression levels of the target protein were verified by Western blotting. The metabolomics results showed "D-Glutamine and D-glutamate metabolism" and "Alanine, aspartate, and glutamate metabolism" as the main targeted metabolic pathways for treating NS in rats. AKT1, BCL2L1, CASP3, and MTOR were the core QRKSG targets in the treatment of NS. Molecular docking revealed that these core targets have a strong affinity for flavonoids, terpenoids, and phenolic acids. Moreover, the expression levels of p-PI3K, p-AKT1, p-mTOR, and CASP3 in the QRKSG group significantly decreased, while BCL2L1 increased compared to the model group. These findings established the underlying mechanism of QRKSG, such as promoting autophagy and anti-apoptosis through the expression of AKT1, CASP3, BCL2L1, and mTOR to protect podocytes and maintain renal tubular function.

Keywords: metabolomics; molecular docking; nephrotic syndrome; network pharmacology; qingrekasen granule.