Ginseng root, a traditional oriental medicine, contains more than a dozen biologically active saponins called ginsenosides, including one present in only trace amounts called ginsenoside-Rf (Rf). Previously, we showed that Rf inhibits Ca2+ channels in mammalian sensory neurons through a mechanism requiring G-proteins, whereas a variety of other ginsenosides were relatively ineffective. Since inhibition of Ca2+ channels in sensory neurons contributes to antinociception by opioids, we tested for analgesic actions of Rf. We find dose-dependent antinociception by systemic administration of Rf in mice using two separate assays of tonic pain: in the acetic acid abdominal constriction test, the ED50 was 56+/-9 mg/kg, a concentration similar to those reported for aspirin and acetaminophen in the same assay; in the tonic phase of the biphasic formalin test, the ED50 was 129+/-32 mg/kg. Rf failed to affect nociception measured in three assays of acute pain: the acute phase of the formalin test, and the thermal (49 degrees C) tail-flick and increasing-temperature (3 degrees C/min) hot-plate tests. The simplest explanation is that Rf inhibits tonic pain without affecting acute pain, but other possibilities exist. Seeking a cellular explanation for the effect, we tested whether Rf suppresses Ca2+ channels on identified nociceptors. Inhibition was seen on large, but not small, nociceptors. This is inconsistent with a selective effect on tonic pain, so it seems unlikely that Ca2+ channel inhibition on primary sensory neurons can fully explain the behavioral antinociception we have demonstrated for Rf.
Copyright 1998 Elsevier Science B.V.