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Tu-San-Qi (Gynura japonica): the culprit behind pyrrolizidine alkaloid-induced liver injury in China

Abstract

Herbs and dietary supplement-induced liver injury (HILI) is the leading cause of drug-induced liver injury in China. Among different hepatotoxic herbs, the pyrrolizidine alkaloid (PA)-producing herb Gynura japonica contributes significantly to HILI by inducing hepatic sinusoidal obstruction syndrome (HSOS), a liver disorder characterized by hepatomegaly, hyperbilirubinemia, and ascites. In China, G. japonica has been used as one of the plant species for Tu-San-Qi and is often misused with non-PA-producing Tu-San-Qi (Sedum aizoon) or even San-Qi (Panax notoginseng) for self-medication. It has been reported that over 50% of HSOS cases are caused by the intake of PA-producing G. japonica. In this review, we provide comprehensive information to distinguish these Tu-San-Qi-related herbal plant species in terms of plant/medicinal part morphologies, medicinal indications, and chemical profiles. Approximately 2156 Tu-San-Qi-associated HSOS cases reported in China from 1980 to 2019 are systematically reviewed in terms of their clinical manifestation, diagnostic workups, therapeutic interventions, and outcomes. In addition, based on the application of our developed mechanism-based biomarker of PA exposure, our clinical findings on the definitive diagnosis of 58 PA-producing Tu-San-Qi-induced HSOS patients are also elaborated. Therefore, this review article provides the first comprehensive report on 2214 PA-producing Tu-San-Qi (G. japonica)-induced HSOS cases in China, and the information presented will improve public awareness of the significant incidence of PA-producing Tu-San-Qi (G. japonica)-induced HSOS and facilitate future prevention and better clinical management of this severe HILI.

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Fig. 1: Photographs of the three commonly used Tu-San-Qi-related herbs.
Fig. 2: Patient information from the care series reports.
Fig. 3: The mechanism of PA-induced hepatotoxicity.

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Acknowledgements

The present study was supported by the Research Grant Council of Hong Kong (GRF Grant no. 14111816 and 14106318), the CUHK Project Impact Enhancement Fund (PIEF Grant No. 3133029) and the CUHK Direct Grant (Grant No. 4054503). This article is not an official USA Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidance or policy statement. No official support or endorsement by the USA FDA is intended or should be inferred.

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Correspondence to Ge Lin.

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Zhu, L., Zhang, Cy., Li, Dp. et al. Tu-San-Qi (Gynura japonica): the culprit behind pyrrolizidine alkaloid-induced liver injury in China. Acta Pharmacol Sin 42, 1212–1222 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41401-020-00553-9

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Keywords

  • herb-induced liver injury
  • hepatic sinusoidal obstruction syndrome
  • pyrrolizidine alkaloids
  • Tu-San-Qi
  • Gynura japonica

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