Researching the antidepressant actions of Hypericum perforatum (St. John's wort) in animals and man
Franklin M, Cowen PJ.
University of Oxford Department of Psychiatry,
Warneford Hospital, UK.
Pharmacopsychiatry 2001 Jul; 34 Suppl 1:S29-37


We have studied the effect of acute and sub-chronic treatments of a formulation of a methanolic extract of hypericum perforatum (HP, also known as St John's wort) on plasma hormones and brain neurotransmitters in healthy human volunteers and rats. Also studied were the effects of equivalent acute doses of two constituents of HP (with respect to LI 160 extract), hypericin and hyperforin in rats. In acute treatment studies in normal volunteers subjects received 9 tablets of the finished product Jarsin 300 and placebo in the pilot study (unblinded) and in the main study (a double blind, balanced order, cross-over design). Results in normal volunteer studies show that HP caused significant increases of salivary cortisol and plasma growth hormone (GH) whereas it decreased plasma prolactin versus placebo. Plasma hormone levels were associated with a rise in plasma hyperforin but not with hypericin, however no significant correlation was found. In the animal studies, acute treatment with LI 160, hyperforin and hypericin all caused significant increases in plasma corticosterone. This was associated with significant increases in brain cortical tissue 5-HT content. The corticosterone responses were attenuated by the 5-HT2 receptor antagonist, ketanserin but not by the 5-HT1A antagonist, WAY-100635. This suggests that the corticosterone responses may be mediated via a 5-HT2 mechanism of action. When sub-chronic and acute treatment using two different doses of LI 160 were compared, plasma corticosterone level were significantly decreased. Thus suggesting a down-regulation or desensitisation of post-synaptic 5-HT2 receptors. Plasma prolactin was significantly reduced by acute treatment with LI 160 and hyperforin treatment but not by hypericin. This was associated with a concomitant rise in brain cortical tissue DA. Both LI 160 and hyperforin treatments decreased the plasma prolactin responses to the DA antagonist, haloperidol, suggesting that this may be associated with a DA-mediated mechanisn of action. When acute and sub-chronic treatments were compared, plasma prolactin responses were increased in the sub-chronically treated animals. The studies when taken together suggest that the LI 160 extract may effect plasma hormonal changes via both 5-HT and DA-mediated mechanisms but do not involve noradrenaline (NA). The data also suggests that hyperforin may be more important than hypericin for effecting these changes following acute treatment. Further studies investigating both acute and sub-chronic effects of these compounds are necessary.

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