Effect of kava extract and individual kavapyrones on neurotransmitter levels in the nucleus accumbens of rats

Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 1998 Oct;22(7):1105-20. doi: 10.1016/s0278-5846(98)00062-1.


1. Kavapyrones have well-known psychotropic properties. The most common actions of the extract are relaxation and euphoria, depending on the circumstances of ingestion, whereas higher doses cause sleepiness and skeletal muscle relaxation. Several other actions have been reported such as anticonvulsant properties, neuroprotection and analgesia. No interactions with neuroreceptors have yet been found that would explain the multiple actions. 2. To reveal neuronal functions affected by the kavapyrones the authors studied their actions on the mesolimbic reward system using in vivo microdialysis. 3. A small dose of kava extract (20 mg/kg body weight i.p.) caused changes in rat behaviour and concentrations of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens. Higher doses (120 mg/kg i.p.) increased the levels of dopamine. With respect to the individual compounds, D,L-kawain induced in low doses a decrease in dopamine levels and in higher amounts either an increase or no change in dopamine concentrations. Yangonin resulted in a decrease of dopamine levels to below the detection limit and desmethoxyyangonin in an increase of dopamine levels. Dihydrokawain, methysticin and dihydromethysticin did not produce any significant changes of dopamine levels. D,L-kawain caused a decrease in 5-HT concentrations. Some of the other kavapyrones affected 5-HT levels as well. 4. The results suggest that the relaxing and slightly euphoric actions may be caused by the activation of the mesolimbic dopaminergic neurones. Changes of the activity of 5-HT neurones could explain the sleep-inducing action.

MeSH terms

  • 3,4-Dihydroxyphenylacetic Acid / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents / pharmacology*
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Homovanillic Acid / metabolism
  • Kava
  • Male
  • Microdialysis
  • Muscle Tonus / drug effects
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism*
  • Nucleus Accumbens / drug effects
  • Nucleus Accumbens / physiology*
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology*
  • Plants, Medicinal
  • Pyrones / pharmacology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Serotonin / metabolism
  • Time Factors


  • Anti-Anxiety Agents
  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Plant Extracts
  • Pyrones
  • 3,4-Dihydroxyphenylacetic Acid
  • Serotonin
  • Dopamine
  • kavain
  • Homovanillic Acid