Studies on medicinal plants of Sri Lanka: Occurrence of pyrrolizidine alkaloids and hepatotoxic properties in some traditional medicinal herbs

Sarath N. Arseculeratne, A. A.Leslie Gunatilaka, Ralph G. Panabokke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

41 Scopus citations


There is a paucity of data on the occurrence of hepatotoxic and hepatocarcinogenic pyrrolizidine alkaloids in medicinal plants, and there are no data on the hepatotoxic properties of herbal medicines that are used in the traditional pharmacopoiea of Sri Lanka and other Asian and African countries. In view of the extensive consumption of these herbs and the occurrence of chronic liver diseases including hepatocellular cancer in this and other countries of South Asia, we have screened fifty medicinal plants for pyrrolizidine alkaloids and have obtained positive results with three species, namely Crotalaria verrucosa L., Holarrhena antidysenterica (L.) Br., and Cassia auriculata L. Feeding trials in rats with materials from these three species produced liver lesions - disruption of the centrilobular veins, congestion or haemorrhage in the centrilobular sinusoids, centrilobular or focal hepatocellular necrosis - and histopathology in the lungs and kidneys which were compatible with the action of pyrrolizidine alkaloids. The presence of alkaloids in C. auriculata has not been previously reported nor has the presence of pyrrolizidine alkaloids in H. antidysenterica. It is suggested that the consumption of herbal medicines that contain pyrrólizidine alkaloids could contribute to the high incidence of chronic liver disease including primary hepatocellular cancer in Asian and African countries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)159-177
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Ethnopharmacology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 1981
Externally publishedYes


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Drug Discovery

Cite this