Icariin is one of the major active flavonoids constituents of Epimedium brevicornum MAXIM (Berberidaceae). Icariin and E. brevicornum have a wide range of pharmacological activities. Abnormality in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is considered to be a key neurobilogical factor in major depression, and cytokines have a close relationship with the activation of the HPA axis. In the present study, the aim was to determine whether icariin possesses an antidepressant-like activity, and to explore the effects of icariin on the HPA axis and cytokine levels in chronic mild stress (CMS) model of depression in Sprague-Dawley rats. Icariin significantly increased the sucrose intake of CMS-treated rats from week 3. It not only attenuated the CMS-induced increases in serum corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) and cortisol levels, but also reversed the abnormal levels of serum interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumor-necrosis-factor alpha (TNF-α) to the normal in the stressed rats. These results suggested that icariin possessed an antidepressant-like property that was at least in part mediated by neuroendocrine and immune systems.
2006 The Pharmaceutical Society of Japan