Home | About PM | Editorial board | Search | Ahead of print | Current Issue | Archives | Instructions | Subscribe | Advertise | Contact us |  Login 
Pharmacognosy Magazine
Search Article 
Advanced search 

  Table of Contents  
Year : 2014  |  Volume : 10  |  Issue : 37  |  Page : 72-79  

Simultaneous quantification of nine major active components in traditional Chinese prescription Mahuang decoction and the influence of herbal compatibility on their contents

1 Department of Medicinal Chemistry, College of Pharmaceutical Science, Zhejiang Chinese Medical University, Hangzhou, China
2 College of Bioengineering, Zhejiang Chinese Medical University, Hangzhou, China

Date of Submission13-Apr-2013
Date of Decision16-May-2013
Date of Web Publication21-Feb-2014

Correspondence Address:
Haitong Wan
College of Bioengineering, Zhejiang Chinese Medical University, 548 Binwen Road, Hangzhou - 310053
Login to access the Email id

Source of Support: This work was fi nancially supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (no. 81102734), Zhejiang Provincial Natural Science Foundation of China (no. LR13H270001), and Program for Zhejiang Leading Team of Science and Technology Innovation (2012R10044-06), Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0973-1296.127346

Rights and Permissions

Background: Mahuang decoction (MHD), a famous classic traditional Chinese formula, has been extensively applied for treating cold, influenza, asthma, acute bronchitis, and other pulmonary diseases. However, the interaction among four drugs of MHD has not been clearly deciphered from the aspect of molecular composition. Objective: To assess the quality of MHD and explore the interplay among different prescription drugs. Materials and Methods: A reversed-phase high performance liquid chromatography (RP-HPLC) coupled with diode array detector (DAD) method for the simultaneous separation and determination of nine bioactive components was developed. A somatomedin A (SMA)-phenyl column (4.6 mm Χ 250 mm, 5 μm) was eluted by a gradient mobile phase contained acetonitrile and 0.05% formic acid-0.05% triethylamine aqueous solution. Four detection wavelengths (210, 252, 278, and 291 nm) were utilized for the quantitative analysis due to the different ultraviolet (UV) spectra of these compounds. Results: Satisfactory separation was obtained for all the components, and the assay was fully validated in respects of linearity, precision, stability, and accuracy. It was found that the calibration curves for all analytes showed good linearity (R 2≥ 0.9991) within the test ranges. The relative standard deviations (RSDs) for intra- and interday repeatability were not more than 1.70 and 2.66%, respectively. The spike recoveries of nine components varied from 97.50 ± 1.69 to 99.27 ± 1.37%. Conclusion: The established method was successfully applied to analyze nine active compounds in decoction samples of various drug compatibilities of MHD. The variations of contents were obvious for different combinations, which hinted the mutual promotion or inhibition of componential dissolution among four herbs of MHD.

Keywords: Determination, HPLC-DAD, herbal compatibility, Mahuang decoction, traditional Chinese prescription

How to cite this article:
He Y, Zhu Y, Zhang R, Ge L, Wan H. Simultaneous quantification of nine major active components in traditional Chinese prescription Mahuang decoction and the influence of herbal compatibility on their contents. Phcog Mag 2014;10, Suppl S1:72-9

How to cite this URL:
He Y, Zhu Y, Zhang R, Ge L, Wan H. Simultaneous quantification of nine major active components in traditional Chinese prescription Mahuang decoction and the influence of herbal compatibility on their contents. Phcog Mag [serial online] 2014 [cited 2022 Dec 2];10, Suppl S1:72-9. Available from: http://www.phcog.com/text.asp?2014/10/37/72/127346

   Introduction Top

Traditional Chinese prescriptions have been used clinically for thousands of years, and exhibit magical efficacy on prevention and therapy of human diseases. More than 100,000 formulae have been accumulated in long-term practices. [1] However, the compatibility principles and the interactions among different drugs of Chinese compound prescriptions have not been clearly deciphered from the aspect of molecular composition even though it is universally accepted that the joint contribution of multidrugs and multicomponents is responsible for the synergistic and therapeutic effects of Traditional Chinese prescriptions. [2],[3] The research has faced many obstacles due to the unimaginable complexity of multi-herb formulae. [4]

Mahuang decoction (Ephedra decoction, MHD), which is a famous classic formula recorded in Treatise on Febrile Diseases (Shang Han Lun in Chinese) edited by Zhang Zhongjing in the Han Dynasty, consists of Herba Ephedrae (Ephedra), Ramulus Cinnamomi (Cassia twig), Semen Armeniacae Amarum (Bitter apricot kernel), and Radix Glycyrrhizae Praeparatae (Prepared licorice) with a traditional dose ratio of 9:6:6:3. MHD has been extensively applied for the treatment of cold, influenza, acute bronchitis, bronchial asthma, and other pulmonary diseases for its acknowledged activities of inducing diaphoresis and allaying asthma; [5],[6] and is considered the typical representation reflecting the essential composition principle of Traditional Chinese prescriptions-'monarch, minister, assistant, and guide'. The four drugs composed MHD have their respective potency when used independently, while after combination in MHD, they not only show the primary or secondary effect, but also supplement and restrict one another, thus form a prescription with great therapeutic function. [7]

Modern pharmacological studies demonstrated that the main bioactive components of MHD include L-ephedrine, D-pseudoephedrine, L-methylephedrine (from Ephedra), cinnamic alcohol, cinnamic aldehyde, cinnamic acid (from Cassia twig), amygdalin (from bitter apricot kernel), liquiritin, and glycyrrhizic acid (from prepared licorice). In the previous reports, the componential interplay between two drugs such as Ephedra and Cassia twig, or Ephedra and bitter apricot kernel has been analyzed and discussed, [8],[9],[10],[11] but little information of nine major bioactive components in four drugs was mentioned integrally.

In the present paper, a simple, accurate, and reliable high performance liquid chromatography coupled with diode array detector (HPLC-DAD) method for the simultaneous quantification of the foregoing nine major components contained in MHD was successfully established for comprehensive quality evaluation of this important traditional Chinese formula. Furthermore, the content fluctuations of nine bioactive ingredients were detected in different drug combinations of MHD, with the aim to provide reference for interpreting the compatibility mechanism of MHD as well as other Chinese compound prescriptions.

   Materials and Methods Top

Reagents and materials

The standard of L-ephedrine (lot number: 171241-201007), D-pseudoephedrine (lot number: 171237-201208), and L-methylephedrine (lot number: 171247-200301) were purchased from the National Institute for Food and Drug Control of China (Beijing, China). The standards of cinnamic alcohol (lot number: 20120421), cinnamic aldehyde (lot number: 20120311), cinnamic acid (lot number: 20120407), amygdalin (lot number: 20110421), liquiritin (lot number: 20120131), and glycyrrhizic acid (lot number: 20101107) were purchased from Shanghai Yuanye Biotechnology Co., Ltd. (Shanghai, China). All these standard substances had over 98% purity. HPLC-grade acetonitrile was supplied by TEDIA (Fairfleld, OH, USA), and water was purified by using a Milli-Q ultra-water system (Billerica, MA, USA) and filtered with 0.22 μm membrane. Other reagents including methanol, formic acid, and triethylamine were all of analytical grade.

The four Chinese herbs Ephedra intermedia Schrenk et C.A.Mey. (lot number: 20120523), Cinnamomum cassia Presl (lot number: 20120409), Prunus armeniaca L. var. ansu. Maxim. (lot number: 20120608), and Glycyrrhiza uralensis Fischer (lot number: 20120415) were purchased from Hangzhou Tairentang Drug Store (Hangzhou, China), and were identified by Prof. Hong Wang, College of Pharmaceutical Science, Zhejiang Chinese Medical University where the voucher specimens are deposited.

Apparatus and chromatographic conditions

An Agilent 1260 Infinity Series HPLC system equipped with a G1311C quarternary pump, a G1316A column oven, a G1329A autosampler, and a G1315D photodiode array detector was used for the chromatographic analysis. All separations were performed on a somatomedin A SMA-phenyl column (4.6 mm × 250 mm, 5 μm). The mobile phase was composed of 0.05% formic acid-0.05% triethylamine aqueous solution (A) and acetonitrile (B) which was applied in the gradient elution as follows: 0-15 min, 92-90% A; 15-20 min, 90-90% A; 20-50 min, 90-73% A; 50-55 min, 73-62% A; 55-60 min, 62-62% A; 60-65 min, 62-92% A, and finally, reconditioning the column with 92% A isocratic for 10 min. The flow rate was 1.0 ml/min and the column temperature was set at 30°C. The injection volume was 20 μl with needle wash. The detection wavelengths were set at 210, 252, 278, and 291 nm where the components had their maximum response of ultraviolet (UV) spectrum, respectively.

Preparation of stock mixed standard solution

Stock mixed standard solution with concentrations of 0.1 mg/ml for L-ephedrine, D-pseudoephedrine, L-methylephedrine, amygdalin, liquiritin, glycyrrhizic acid, and concentrations of 0.01 mg/ml for cinnamic alcohol, cinnamic acid, and cinnamic aldehyde was prepared by 50% methanol.

Preparation of MHD extract for HPLC quantification

The raw materials were weighed in conformity with MHD formula, that is, Ephedra 9 g, Cassia twig 6 g, bitter apricot kernel 6 g, and prepared licorice 3 g. Ephedra was immersed in 90 ml water for 30 min and first decocted for 30 min. The other three drugs were immersed in 150 ml water for 30 min, then decocted with Ephedra for another 30 min. The aqueous extraction solution was adjusted to 150 ml, filtered through 0.45 μm membrane and injected into HPLC system.

Preparation of extraction solutions of different herbal combinations

In order to investigate the mutual influence of four drugs in MHD, 14 groups of herbal combinations were designed as follows: (1) Ephedra 9 g; (2) Cassia twig 6 g; (3) bitter apricot kernel 6 g; (4) prepared licorice 3 g; (5) Ephedra 9 g and Cassia twig 6 g; (6) Ephedra 9 g and bitter apricot kernel 6 g; (7) Ephedra 9 g and prepared licorice 3 g; (8) Cassia twig 6 g and bitter apricot kernel 6 g; (9) Cassia twig 6 g and prepared licorice 3 g; (11) bitter apricot kernel 6 g and prepared licorice 3 g; (11) Ephedra 9 g Cassia twig 6 g and bitter apricot kernel 6 g; (12) Ephedra 9 g, cassia twig 6 g, and prepared licorice 3 g; (13) Ephedra 9 g, bitter apricot kernel 6 g, and prepared licorice 3 g; (14) Cassia twig 6 g, bitter apricot kernel 6 g, and prepared licorice 3 g.

Different drug combinations were extracted by the similar way described above. The crude drugs were added 10-fold water, soaked for 30 min then boiled for another 30 min. If there was Ephedra included in the drug combination, it should be preboiled for 30 min in accordance with the traditional theory of Chinese medicine.

Validation of the method

The calibration was carried out using a series of standard solution prepared by diluting the stock solution to appropriate concentration range. With two replicates per concentration, the calibration curves were plotted with integrated chromatographic peak areas of nine major active components in MHD against the corresponding concentrations.

The limits of detection and quantification under the chromatographic condition were calculated at a signal-to-noise (S/N) ratio of 3 for limit of detection (LOD) and 10 for limit of quantification (LOQ), respectively. [12]

Intra- and interday variations were chosen to determine the precision of the developed method. The relative standard deviation (RSD) was taken as a measure of precision. Intra- and interday repeatability was determined on six replicates within 1 day and 5 consecutive days, respectively. [13]

The stability of analytical solution at ambient temperature was investigated by analyzing sample solution at 0, 2, 4, 8, 12, and 24 h. The RSD values of peak areas were used for evaluation (n = 6).

To evaluate accuracy, MHD samples were spiked with various amounts of standard solution. The spiked solutions of each concentration level were prepared in triplicate and their peak areas were used to calculate the recoveries.

   Results and Discussion Top

Optimization of HPLC conditions

Since nine analytes in MHD belong to alkaline, acid and neutral compounds, respectively, and alkaloids in Ephedra, or phenylpropanoids in Cassia twig have analogical chemical structure, appropriate chromatographic conditions are critically important for good separation. In our experiment, different columns, mobile phases, and elution programs were employed. Flow rate and over temperature were also optimized. Eventually, a SMA-phenyl column was used to improve the resolution of Ephedra alkaloids, and eluted by acetonitrile-0.05% formic acid-0.05% triethylamine aqueous solution with a flow rate of 1.0 ml/min at 30°C which was found suitable for the simultaneous determination.

Considering the individual UV absorption characteristics of different compounds [Figure 1], the photodiode array detector was set at 210 nm for L-ephedrine, D-pseudoephedrine, L-methylephedrine, amygdalin, and liquiritin; 252 nm for cinnamic alcohol and glycyrrhizic acid; 278 nm for cinnamic acid; and 291 nm for cinnamic aldehyde. Under this proposed analytical condition, the nine marker constituents were sufficiently resolved and successfully separated, and excellent agreement between standard and sample spectra was found in all analyzed samples [Figure 2] and [Figure 3].
Figure 1: Ultraviolet absorption spectra of the nine active components contained in mahuang decoction

Click here to view
Figure 2: High-performance liquid chromatograph chromatogram of a mixed standard solution. 1. L-ephedrine, 2. D-pseudoephedrine, 3. L-methylephedrine, 4. amygdalin, 5. liquiritin, 6. cinnamic alcohol, 7. cinnamic acid, 8. cinnamic aldehyde, 9. glycyrrhizic acid

Click here to view
Figure 3: HPLC chromatogram of MHD water extract. 1. L-ephedrine, 2. D-pseudoephedrine, 3. L-methylephedrine, 4. amygdalin, 5. liquiritin, 6. cinnamic alcohol, 7. cinnamic acid, 8. cinnamic aldehyde, 9. glycyrrhizic acid

Click here to view

Calibration curves and the limits of detection

Calibration equations of mixed standard solutions, coefficients of determination (R 2 ), linear range, and the detection limits of all analytes were presented in [Table 1]. All calibration curves were constructed from peak areas of the reference standards versus their concentrations. The results of LOD and LOQ were also given in [Table 1].
Table 1: Calibration equations, coefficients of determination (R2), linear ranges, LODs and LOQs of all analytes

Click here to view

Precision, stability and accuracy

It was found that overall intra- and interday variations of nine components were not more than 1.70 and 2.66%, respectively; suggesting that the developed method was precise. And the sample solution was stable for at least 24 h at room temperature [Table 2].
Table 2: The intra- and interday precision and stability of all analytes (n=6)

Click here to view

Accuracy was determined by adding three different quantities (low, medium, and high) of the authentic standards to the known amounts of MHD samples. The recoveries of L-ephedrine, D-pseudoephedrine, L-methylephedrine, amygdalin, liquiritin, cinnamic alcohol, cinnamic acid, cinnamic aldehyde, and glycyrrhizic acid were 98.30 ± 1.07% (RSD = 1.09%), 98.81 ± 1.40% (RSD = 1.42%), 99.27 ± 1.37% (RSD = 1.38%), 98.30 ± 1.56% (RSD = 1.59%), 97.50 ± 1.69% (RSD = 1.73%), 97.86 ± 1.19% (RSD = 1.22%), 98.71 ± 1.15% (RSD = 1.17%), 99.23 ± 1.52% (RSD = 1.53%), 98.50 ± 1.43% (RSD = 1.45%), respectively [Table 3]. The results demonstrated that the corresponding assay method was reliable and reproducible.
Table 3: The spike recoveries of all analytes (n=6)

Click here to view

Quantitative determination of nine active components in MHD and different herbal compatibilities samples

The newly developed analytical method was subsequently applied to determine the nine compounds in MHD and different drug combinations. All samples were extracted and analyzed in triplicate and the contents were shown in [Table 4]. The content variations of the representative compounds in four herbal drugs were diagramed in [Figure 4].
Table 4: Contents of nine components in MHD and different herbal compatibilities samples (μg/ml, n=3)

Click here to view
Figure 4: Content variations of nine bioactive components in different herb compatibilities of MHD. (a) Content variations of L-ephedrine, D-pseudoephedrine, and L-methylephedrine in Ephedra. (b) Content variations of cinnamic alcohol, cinnamic acid and cinnamic aldehyde in Cassia twig. (c) Content variation of amygdalin in bitter apricot kernel. (d) Content variations of liquiritin and glycyrrhizic acid in prepared licorice

Click here to view

Compared with those in the single Ephedra extract, the contents of three Ephedra alkaloids were decreased when Ephedra was combined with Cassia twig or prepared licorice, while markedly increased after Ephedra in combination with bitter apricot kernel. In the whole formula of MHD, the significant decrease in the content of L-ephedrine contrasted with the increase of those of D-pseudoephedrine and L-methylephedrine; as for three phenylpropanoids in Cassia twig. Ephedra elevated the levels of cinnamic alcohol and cinnamic acid, but degraded the level of cinnamic aldehyde. Besides, their content was all decreased due to the present of bitter apricot kernel or prepared licorice. Amygdalin, as the unique representative ingredient of bitter apricot kernel in our study, was found content increment no matter which drug combined with it. Compared to single decoction, liquiritin in prepared licorice had no significant content change after combination with other three drugs, but the content of glycyrrhizic acid declined obviously because of multi-herb decoction.

   Conclusion Top

A reliable HPLC-DAD method was developed and applied to the simultaneous determination of nine bioactive compounds in MHD. With the fine validation results, the proposed method could be used to scientifically assess the quality of this traditional Chinese formula. Moreover, a comparative study of the contents of these nine ingredients in different herb-herb compatibilities was achieved based on this method, which was important for further elucidation of the composition mechanism of MHD.

   References Top

1.Qiu J. Traditional medicine: A culture in the balance. Nature 2007;448:126-8.  Back to cited text no. 1
2.Jia XB, Chen Y, Li X, Tan XB, Fan CL, Li LD. New thoughts and methods of studying material base of traditional Chinese herbal formula. China J Tradit Chin Med Pharm 2008;23:420-5.  Back to cited text no. 2
3.Li H, Wang SW, Zhang BL, Xie YH, Yang Q, Cao W, et al. Simultaneous quantitative determination of 9 active components in traditional Chinese medicinal preparation Shuang Dan oral liquid by RP-HPLC coupled with photodiode array detection. J Pharm Biomed Anal 2011;56:820-4.  Back to cited text no. 3
4.Wang S, Hu Y, Tan W, Wu X, Chen R, Cao J, et al. Compatibility art of traditional Chinese medicine: From the perspective of herb pairs. J Ethnopharmacol 2012;143:412-23.  Back to cited text no. 4
5.Wang JB, Li ZY, Wang XH. Clinical application of Ephedra decoction. Chin J Ethnomed Ethnopham 2011;10:57-8.  Back to cited text no. 5
6.Zhang BG, Liu QF. Modern pharmacodynamic research and clinical application of Ephedra decoction. Chin Tradit Pat Med 2007;29:415-22.  Back to cited text no. 6
7.He Y, Gai Y, Wu X, Wan H. Quantitatively analyze composition principle of Ma HuangTang by structural equation modeling. J Ethnopharmacol 2012;143:851-8.  Back to cited text no. 7
8.Cao PX, Liang GY, Xu BX, Jin FY, He ZY. Determination of glycyrrhizic acid in MAHUANG DECOCTION by HPLC when decocted separately or as a whole. Chin Tradit Herb Drugs 2001;32:981-3.  Back to cited text no. 8
9.Li JL, Chen FL, Liu CM, Luo JB. Determination of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine in Mahuang Tang by GC-MS and effect of compatible medicinal herbs on concentration of components in decoction. Chin Tradit Herb Drugs 2002;33:307-9.  Back to cited text no. 9
10.Wei FH, Luo JB, Chen FL, He F. Influence of compatibility on cinnamic aldehyde in Mahuang Decoction by GC-MS. Chin Tradit Herb Drugs 2004;35:365-8.  Back to cited text no. 10
11.Wu ZH, Luo JB, Hu XT. Study on influence of compatibility on amygdalin in Mahuang Decoction by HPLC. Chin Tradit Herb Drugs 2004;35:269-71.  Back to cited text no. 11
12.Weon JB, Yang HJ, Ma JY, Ma CJ. A HPLC-DAD method for the simultaneous determination of five marker components in the traditional herbal medicine Bangpungtongsung-san. Pharmacogn Mag 2011;7:60-4.  Back to cited text no. 12
13.Qin K, Wang B, Cai H, Li W, Yao Z, Zhang X, et al. Simultaneous determination of five marker compounds in Xuanfu Daizhe Tang by high-performance liquid chromatography coupled with diode array detection for quality control. Pharmacogn Mag 2012;8:250-5.  Back to cited text no. 13


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4]

  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4]

This article has been cited by
1 Mahuang Decoction Attenuates Airway Inflammation and Remodeling in Asthma via Suppression of the SP1/FGFR3/PI3K/AKT Axis
Lina Wei, Xulei Gou, Baoning Su, Haiqiong Han, Tingting Guo, Liang Liu, Lei Wang, Lina Zhang, Weibin Chen
Drug Design, Development and Therapy. 2022; Volume 16: 2833
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
2 Mahuang Decoction Antagonizes Acute Liver Failure via Modulating Tricarboxylic Acid Cycle and Amino Acids Metabolism
Wenting Liao, Qiwen Jin, Junning Liu, Yiling Ruan, Xinran Li, Yueyue Shen, Zhicheng Zhang, Yong Wang, Shengming Wu, Junying Zhang, Lifeng Kang, Chunyong Wu
Frontiers in Pharmacology. 2021; 12
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
3 Systematic characterization of chemical constituents in Mahuang decoction by UHPLC tandem linear ion trap-Orbitrap mass spectrometry coupled with feature-based molecular networking
Ling Chen, Changliang Yao, Jiayuan Li, Jing Wang, Shuai Yao, Shijie Shen, Lin Yang, Jianqing Zhang, Wenlong Wei, Qirui Bi, De-an Guo
Journal of Separation Science. 2021; 44(14): 2717
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
4 Pharmacokinetics of seven major active components of Mahuang decoction in rat blood and brain by LC–MS/MS coupled to microdialysis sampling
Haoyu Wan, Lujia Pan, Yu Wang, Chang Li, Li Yu, Huifen Zhou, Haitong Wan, Yu He
Naunyn-Schmiedeberg's Archives of Pharmacology. 2020; 393(8): 1559
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
5 Antiviral effects of Ma Huang Tang against H1N1 influenza virus infection in vitro and in an ICR pneumonia mouse model
Wenyang Wei, Haitong Wan, Xueqian Peng, Huifen Zhou, Yiyu Lu, Yu He
Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. 2018; 102: 1161
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
6 Influence of herbal combinations on the extraction efficiencies of chemical compounds from Cinnamomum cassia, Paeonia lactiflora, and Glycyrrhiza uralensis, the herbal components of Gyeji-tang, evaluated by HPLC method
Jung-Hoon Kim,Woo-Ram Ha,Jin-Hyung Park,Guemsan Lee,Goya Choi,Seung-Ho Lee,Young-Sik Kim
Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analysis. 2016; 129: 50
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
7 Chemical interaction betweenPaeonia lactifloraandGlycyrrhiza uralensis, the components of Jakyakgamcho-tang, using a validated high-performance liquid chromatography method: Herbal combination and chemical interaction in a decoction
Jung-Hoon Kim,Hyeun-Kyoo Shin,Chang-Seob Seo
Journal of Separation Science. 2014; : n/a
[Pubmed] | [DOI]


    Similar in PUBMED
   Search Pubmed for
   Search in Google Scholar for
 Related articles
    Access Statistics
    Email Alert *
    Add to My List *
* Registration required (free)  

  In this article
    Materials and Me...
    Results and Disc...
    Article Figures
    Article Tables

 Article Access Statistics
    PDF Downloaded110    
    Comments [Add]    
    Cited by others 7    

Recommend this journal