Codonopsis pilosula

1Sources and Composition

1.1. Sources

Codonopsis Pilosula is a herb belonging to the family of Campanulaceae and is also known as Dangshen (not to be confused with Danshen, a name for the herb Salvia miltiorrhiza) that is commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine; where it is most well known for being a low-cost substitute for Panax ginseng, where some historical texts falsely call Codonopsis 'Chinese Ginseng'.[2] Codonopsis Pilosula is sometimes found to be mixed with Campanumoea javanica in the same plant family as an adulterant.[3]

Codonopsis Pilosula has intentionally been used itself mostly for a spleen and lung tonic, as well as a digestive aid targeted towards the stomach.

1.2. Composition

The following bioactives are found in Codonopsis Pilosula:

  • Codonopilates A-C, a group of triterpenyl esters isolated from a CHCl3 fraction[4]

  • 24-methylenecycloartanyl linolate and 24-methylenecycloartan-3-ol, structurally similar to Codonopilates[4]

  • Codotubulosine A and B[3] at 0.516-3.44mg/g dry weight, respectively. The variant of modesta has a lesser content (0.14-0.42mg/g)[3] as well as Codonopsine and Codonospinine[3]

  • Codonopyrrolidium B, a pyrrolidine alkaloid[4]

  • Hesperidin[5]

  • Alpha-spinasterol[5]

  • N-hexyl beta-sophoroside[5]

  • Lobetyolin[6] and lobetyolinin[5]

  • 5-hydroxymethylfurfural[3][4]

  • Perlolyrine[7]

  • Taraxerol, taraxeryl acetate,[5] and 14-taraxeren-3-ol[4]

  • Squalene[4]

  • Adenosine at 0.885-0.92mg/g dry weight[3]

  • beta-sitosterol and beta-daucosterol[5]

  • Vitamin E (as alpha-tocopherol)

Main bioactives that may underlie bioactivities of Codonopsis Pilosula, most likely the alkaloids; although Codonopilates are large structures with side chains, all other alkaloids (Codonopyrrolidium B, Codotubulosine A and B, Codonopsine and Codonopsinine) have pyrrolidine alkaloids structures, similar to Piracetam and the racetam family

The Codonopsis Pilosula herb tends to contain the following crude polysaccharides (totalling around 4.55% of the weight of the plant[8]):

  • An acidic polysaccharide fragment (Rhamnose:Arabinose:Galactose:Mannose:Galacturonic Acid in a 1.34:3.49:1.07:0.45:1.98 ratio)[9] and a separate acidic polysaccharide (arabinose:glucose:rhamnose:galactose:mannose:glucuronic acid:galacturonic acid at 11.4:24.6:3.8:11.5:1.8:1.0:28.4)[10]

  • Polysaccharide containing Galactose, Rhamnose, and Arabinose in similar ratios[11] which may be called CPPS3[12]

  • Water soluble polysaccharide S-CPPA1 (glucose:galactose:arabinose in a 10.5:3.4:1.7 ratio, 2.35% protein and 133.2kDa)[8] consisting of 0.82% crude material by weight

A few polysaccharides (chains of carbohydrates, a component of the carbohydrate content of the plant) may also possess bioactivity

2Interactions with Neurology

2.1. Mechanisms

One rat study noted that ingestion of Codonopsis resulted in attenuation of the memory-impairing effects of scopolamine as well as Alcohol (30g/kg) in mice and rats, and was thought to be secondary to a bioactive in the n-butyl alcohol fraction which was shown to increase the density of muscarinic cholinergic receptors in the brain; no binding or alterations in affinity were noted.[13]

Currently, other studies that note interactions with the cholinergic system have found increased tension in the smooth muscle tissue of the stomach, which was partially blocked by Atropine.[14]

Possibly something related to acetylcholine receptors may contribute, but the evidence is currently subpar

Codonopsis alkaloids were found to suppress cell growth of the neural cell line PC12. Cell growth was suppressed by up to 15% at the concentration of 30ug/mL under the influence of NGF at 2ug/mL; in this study, 100ug/mL of Codonopsis was required to be equally effective as 50ug/mL NGF in suppressing proliferation (to 80% of control).[15]

Codonopsis alkaloids have been found to, in vitro, enhance NGF-induced neuronal outgrowth in PC12 cells. Although it alone failed to enhance neurite length, 2ug/mL enhanced NGF-induced growth from 7.0+/-3% to 52.0+/-8%; 742% the growth of NGF alone.[15] Synergism were noted to be statistically significant at 10ug/mL, and missed statistical significance at 3ug/mL.[15] These benefits appeared to be mediated via MAPK (the pathway mediated by NGF[16]), as incubation with the inhibitor PD98059 suppressed growth.[15] In Schwann cells (RSC 69) it was found that the signalling via MAPK is p38 and ERK dependent,[17] where concentrations of 10-100ug/mL for 16 hours significantly increased proliferation of cell nuclear antigen (up to 120% at 60ug/mL) and increased Schwann cell proliferation around 350% of control at 20-40ug/mL and increased cell migration in a dose-dependent manner coupled with increased MMP9 and uPA, which may be downstream of an increase in FGF-2.[17] The authors hypothesized that the increase of neuronal proliferation and migration could aid nerve regeneration.[17]

Too preliminary to draw conclusions, but some bioactives in Codonopsis (alkaloids in structure) appear to enhance neuronal differentiation in vitro.

2.2. Neuroprotection

One study assessing brain slice homogenates (in vitro) noted that an extract of Codonopsis pilosula was able to exert anti-lipid peroxidative effects, 8.3-9.8% inhibition with 100-500ug/mL of the water extract but 16.7-30.4% inhibition with a butanolic extract.[18]

2.3. Interventions

Currently, one human study using Codonopsis in conjunction with Ginkgo biloba at 75mg and 40mg respectively noted improvements in memory aquisition and retention that was greater than an equal dose of Ginkgo Biloba suggesting additive or synergistic effects; Codonopsis was not tested in isolation.[1]

3Inflammation and Immunology

One in vitro study on a polysaccharide fragment from Codonopsis Pilosula found a dose dependent relationship between splenocyte proliferation in respose to LPS (+77.4%) or ConcavalinA (+75%) treatment.[11] This inflamatory role has been replicated in vivo where a polysaccharide fragment from Codonopsis Pilosula was shown to increase antigen production when administered with a vaccine, suggesting an the fragment can be used as an adjuvant.[19]

One study assessing macrophage phagocytosis found one isolated polysaccharide to, after oral ingestion of 50 or 100mg/kg daily, increase phagocytotic capabilities by 15.6% and 28.7%; respectively.[20] As there was efficacy with the polysaccharide (CPPW1) but not the polysaccharide without side-chains (CPPW1B), the side chains were deemed critical to the immunological function of Codonopsis.[20]

4Interactions with Cancer

4.1. Tumor Growth

One in vitro study using the HO-8910 (human ovarian cancer) cell line noted that treatment with an acidic polysaccharide derived from the roots appeared to reduce the invasion and migration potential of the tumor cell while suppressing proliferation; thought to be through a reduction in CD44 expression, a cellular adhesion molecule that had its expression (as a percentage of total cells) decreased dose-dependently in response to the acidic polysaccharide.[9] Cell survival after 48 hour incubation reached 81.72% of baseline at 25ug/mL, and appeared to reach 39.35% at 200ug/mL, suggestive of apoptotic capabilities as well.[9] Inhibition of tumor growth has been noted in mice injected with tumor cells in response to oral administration of 50 or 100mg/kg of one of two polysaccharides in the range of 22.86-56.73% inhibition; the active control of cyclophosphamide at 30mg/kg injected achieved 63.67% inhibition.[20]

4.2. Interventions

At least one study has been conducted with combination therapy (Codonopsis pilosula 27.1mg, Angelicae Sinensis 64.5mg, Ganoderma lucidum at 3mg, and an oil extract of Geranium at 273.6mg) daily for 2 years in a group of cancer patients recieving chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy. Subjects recieving the combination therapy showed a smaller reduction in leukocyte counts (-14.2% vs. -22.8% in the control group), and a smaller reduction in neutrophil counts (-11.0% vs. -29.1% in the control group).[21] NK cells were reduced in control (80% of baseline) but not experimental, but intervention had no preservative effect on B cells, which dropped to about 70% in both groups.[21]. Because this study used a combination therapy, the specific role of C. pilosula can't be defined.

5Interactions with Various Organs

5.1. Kidneys

One polysaccharide (S-CPPA1) isolated from the roots of C. pilosula appeared to reduce the damage on rat kidneys induced by ischemia/reperfusion injury when ingested at 10mg/kg for 10 days prior to test, attenuating the subsequent increases in creatinine (from +206.3% to +35.9%), BUN (+434% to +76%), TNF-α (from +704.1% to +57.2%), LDH (from +119% to +6.9%), and AST (from +93.6% to +6%); all values are I/R without Codonopsis polysaccharide relative to with supplementation.[8] As this polysaccharide consists of 0.82% crude weight, these doses can be extended to 1,219mg/kg bulk Codonopsis in rats (converted human dose is 195mg/kg).[8]

Scientific Support & Reference Citations


  1. Yang JP, Yeo IS A study on the true nature of "Chinese jinseng" . Uisahak. (2003)
  2. Li CY, et al Quality assessment of Radix Codonopsis by quantitative nuclear magnetic resonance . J Chromatogr A. (2009)
  3. Wakana D, Kawahara N, Goda Y Three new triterpenyl esters, codonopilates A-C, isolated from Codonopsis pilosula . J Nat Med. (2011)
  4. Qi HY, et al Studies on the chemical constituents of Codonopsis pilosula . Zhong Yao Cai. (2011)
  5. Liu T, et al Extraction of lobetyolin from codonopsis with supercritical CO2 . Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. (2009)
  6. Liu T, Liang W, Tu G Perlolyrine: a beta-carboline alkaloid from Codonopsis pilosula . Planta Med. (1988)
  7. Li Z, et al Protective effect of a polysaccharide from stem of Codonopsis pilosula against renal ischemia/reperfusion injury in rats . Carbohydr Polym. (2012)
  8. Xin T, et al The inhibitory effect of a polysaccharide from Codonopsis pilosula on tumor growth and metastasis in vitro . Int J Biol Macromol. (2012)
  9. Yang X, et al Development and application of a capillary electrophoretic method for the composition analysis of a typical heteropolysaccharide from Codonopsis pilosula NANNF . Biol Pharm Bull. (2008)
  10. Yongxu S, Jicheng L Structural characterization of a water-soluble polysaccharide from the roots of Codonopsis pilosula and its immunity activity . Int J Biol Macromol. (2008)
  11. Zhang YJ, et al Structure analysis of water-soluble polysaccharide CPPS3 isolated from Codonopsis pilosula . Fitoterapia. (2010)
  12. Nootropic effect of dangshen, radix codonopsis pilosulae
  13. Zheng TZ, et al Effects of Dangshen on isolated gastric muscle strips in rats . World J Gastroenterol. (1998)
  14. Liu JH, et al Codonopsis pilosula (Franch) Nannf total alkaloids potentiate neurite outgrowth induced by nerve growth factor in PC12 cells . Acta Pharmacol Sin. (2003)
  15. Gómez N, Cohen P Dissection of the protein kinase cascade by which nerve growth factor activates MAP kinases . Nature. (1991)
  16. Chen HT, et al Dangshen (Codonopsis pilosula) activates IGF-I and FGF-2 pathways to induce proliferation and migration effects in RSC96 Schwann cells . Am J Chin Med. (2010)
  17. Ng TB, Liu F, Wang HX The antioxidant effects of aqueous and organic extracts of Panax quinquefolium, Panax notoginseng, Codonopsis pilosula, Pseudostellaria heterophylla and Glehnia littoralis . J Ethnopharmacol. (2004)
  18. Singh B, et al Dangshen (Codonopsis pilosula) and Bai guo (Gingko biloba) enhance learning and memory . Altern Ther Health Med. (2004)
  19. Sun YX Immunological adjuvant effect of a water-soluble polysaccharide, CPP, from the roots of Codonopsis pilosula on the immune responses to ovalbumin in mice . Chem Biodivers. (2009)
  20. Xu C, et al The contribution of side chains to antitumor activity of a polysaccharide from Codonopsis pilosula . Int J Biol Macromol. (2012)
  21. Zhuang SR, et al Effect of citronellol and the Chinese medical herb complex on cellular immunity of cancer patients receiving chemotherapy/radiotherapy . Phytother Res. (2009)