Ethnopharmacological relevance: The Ger-Gen-Chyn-Lian-Tang (GGCLT), an officially standardized mixture of Chinese herbal medicines, consists of Puerariae Radix, Scutellariae Radix, Coptidis Rhizoma and Glycyrrhizae Radix in a ratio of 8:3:3:2. In this study, we evaluated the benefits of GGCLT in atherosclerotic progression. Methods: The major constituents of GGCLT were analyzed by HPLC. ApoE -/- mice taken 0.15% cholesterol diet were orally given vehicle or GGCLT (2 g/kg/day) for 12 weeks. Serum levels of lipid and glucose were analyzed, and atherosclerosis was examined by histological analyses. Cultures of vascular smooth muscle cells, hepatocytes and bone marrow-derived macrophages were used to investigate the action mechanisms of GGCLT. Results: Our quantitation results indicated that GGCLT contains puerarin, daidzin, daidzein, baicalin, baicalein, wogonin, palmatine, coptisine, berberine and glycyrrhizin. GGCLT decreased serum levels of total cholesterol and LDL, but not TG and HDL in ApoE -/- mice. In parallel, GGCLT treatment reduced atherosclerotic lesions and collagen expression in atheroma plaques. In vascular smooth muscle cells, GGCLT could reduce cell migration, but failed to affect cell viability and proliferation. In hepatocytes, GGCLT can reduce lipid accumulation, and this action was accompanied by the activation of AMPK, upregulation of PPARs, and downregulation of FAS. Pharmacological approach indicated that the latter two events contributing to the anti-lipogenesis is resulting from AMPK pathway, and the lipid lowering effect of GGCLT in hepatocytes is mediated by AMPK and PPARα pathways. Meanwhile, two of the major components of GGCLT, berberine and puerarin, also activated AMPK and decreased lipid accumulation in hepatocytes with berberine of higher efficacy. Besides in hepatocytes, AMPK signaling was also activated by GGCLT in vascular smooth muscle cells and macrophages. Conclusions: These results demonstrate the anti-atherosclerotic action of Chinese medicine mixture GGCLT in ApoE -/- atherosclerotic mouse model. Mechanistic study suggests that activation of AMPK and PPARα in hepatocytes leading to a decrease of lipid formation contributes to the beneficial action of GGCLT in atherosclerosis treatment.
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