Sceletium tortuosum (L.) N.E.Br. (ST) has been used by the Khoisan people of South Africa as a mood elevator. Its various pharmacological mechanisms of action suggest distinct potential as an antidepressant. Clinical studies in healthy individuals suggest beneficial effects on mood, cognition, and anxiety.
Aim of the study
To obtain a chromatographic fingerprint of a standardized extract of S. tortuosum (Zembrin®), and to evaluate the acute antidepressant-like properties of Zembrin® versus the reference antidepressant, escitalopram, in the Flinders Sensitive Line (FSL) rat, a genetic rodent model of depression.
Materials and methods
The chemical profile of Zembrin® was determined by ultra-performance liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (UPLC-MS) chromatogram method using alkaloid standards. Twelve saline treated FSL and six Flinders Resistant Line (FRL) control rats were used to confirm face validity of the FSL model using the forced swim test (FST). Thereafter, FSL rats (n = 10) received either 5, 10, 25, 50 or 100 mg/kg of Zembrin®, or 5, 10 or 20 mg/kg escitalopram oxalate (ESC), both via oral gavage, and subjected to the open field test (OFT) and FST.
Four main ST alkaloids were identified and quantified in Zembrin® viz. mesembrenone, mesembrenol, mesembrine, and mesembranol (47.9%, 32%, 13.2%, and 6.8% of the total alkaloids, respectively). FSL rats showed significantly decreased swimming and climbing (coping) behaviours, and significantly increased immobility (despair), versus FRL controls. ESC 5 mg/kg and Zembrin® 25 mg/kg and 50 mg/kg showed significant dose-dependent reversal of immobility in FSL rats and variable effects on coping behaviours. Zembrin® 50 mg/kg was the most effective antidepressant dose, showing equivalence to ESC 5.
Zembrin® (25 and 50 mg/kg) and ESC (5 mg/kg) are effective antidepressants after acute treatment in the FST. Moreover, Zembrin® 50 mg/kg proved equivalent to ESC 5. Further long-term bio-behavioural studies on the antidepressant properties of Zembrin® are warranted.