Pharmacology of Chinese herbal medicine

Pharmacology of Chinese herbal medicine

Owing to the multi-component, multiple-target, multi-pharmacology and low toxicity characteristics, Chinese herbal medicines (CHMs) have attracted increasing attention in recent decades. Indeed, CHMs have been used for the treatment of different diseases in China for thousands of years. To study how CHMs work and to elucidate their underlying mechanisms of action remain an important subject in modern Chinese medicine research.

The special series entitled “Pharmacology of Chinese Herbal Medicine” is a case in point in this research area. It aims to provide recent updates on the pharmacology of CHMs in the treatment of different diseases.

The zebrafish closely resembles the human genome, and is a useful tool for investigating the efficacy and toxicity of drugs. Ella Man-Wai Un and colleagues under the supervision of Professor Simon Lee at the University of Macau used zebrafish to investigate the cardiotoxicity of cinnabar, a naturally occurring mercuric sulfide. They found that cinnabar could induce cardiac damage and locomotor disorders in zebrafish larvae. The authors remind that more attention should be paid to the potential toxicity of cinnabar, especially when it is used in clinical practice for a long period of time.

Alzheimer’s disease (AD), is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 50–70% of dementia patients worldwide. Yu-Xuan Kan and colleagues under the supervision of Professor Min Li reviewed the neuroprotective activities of icariin in rodent models of AD. Their findings showed that icariin alleviated cognitive impairment induced by amyloid beta (Aβ)-induced rats via improving the synaptic plasticity, inhibiting apoptosis and oxidative stress through regulating BDNF/TrkB/Akt pathway. Icariin also ameliorated the cognitive deficits of APP/PS1 transgenic mice via reducing the Aβ deposits and inhibiting inflammation. In addition, icariin improved spatial memory impairment in senescence-accelerated mouse prone 8 (SAMP8) mice and 5×FAD transgenic mice. These data demonstrated that icariin a promising agent worthy of further development into an anti-AD drug.

CHMs have been used since time immortal to treat various infectious diseases in China for thousands of years. Juan Zhang and her co-authors reviewed 15 CM formulae used for the treatment of COVID-19, including 7 oral formulae and 8 injection fluids in China. The main constituents, active ingredients, the efficacy and action mechanisms of these CM formulae in preclinical and clinical study were comprehensively summarized. The results of this review collectively attest that Chinese medicine is a valuable therapeutic option for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19.

Valuable Chinese medicines play important roles in the maintenance of health and treatment of diseases in China. Wenhui Zhang and co-author under the supervision of Professor Man Yuan reviewed the clinical studies of 8 typical well-known and valuable herbal medicines including Cordyceps sinensis, Crocus sativus, Ganoderma lucidum, Collocalia esculenta, Panax ginseng, Colla corii asini, Panax notoginseng and Dendrobium officinale. This review provides valuable clinical application information of these 8 typical valuable herbal medicines to the readers.

We hope that readers will find the contents of this special series interesting and stimulating.


We would like to thank the authors for submitting their insightful research or review for publication, and the reviewers for sharing their expertise, constructive comments, and their contributions to improve the submitted manuscripts.

Funding: None.


Provenance and Peer Review: This article was commissioned by the editorial office, Longhua Chinese Medicine for the series “Pharmacology of Chinese Herbal Medicine”. The article did not undergo external peer review.

Conflicts of Interest: All authors have completed the ICMJE uniform disclosure form (available at The series “Pharmacology of Chinese Herbal Medicine” was commissioned by the editorial office without any funding or sponsorship. ZL served as the unpaid Guest Editor of the series and serves as an unpaid editorial board member of Longhua Chinese Medicine from May 2020 to March 2022. HXX and LX served as the unpaid Guest Editors of the series. The authors have no other conflicts of interest to declare.

Ethical Statement: The authors are accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

Open Access Statement: This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0), which permits the non-commercial replication and distribution of the article with the strict proviso that no changes or edits are made and the original work is properly cited (including links to both the formal publication through the relevant DOI and the license). See:

Zhixiu Lin
Hong-Xi Xu
Lisa Xian

Zhixiu Lin1


Hong-Xi Xu2


Lisa Xian1


1School of Chinese Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China;2School of Pharmacy, Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Shanghai, China

Received: 27 January 2022; Accepted: 21 February 2022; Published: 30 June 2022.

doi: 10.21037/lcm-22-2

doi: 10.21037/lcm-22-2
Cite this article as: Lin Z, Xu HX, Xian L. Pharmacology of Chinese herbal medicine. Longhua Chin Med 2022;5:11.

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