Processed aconite root (PA) is a crude drug used in traditional Chinese or Japanese medicine to generate heat in interior body and dispel cold. We evaluated the effects of PA on hypothermia and reduction in the activity of natural killer (NK) cells in mice exposed to chronic cold stress. Male mice were reared at 4 °C, and powdered PA was administered for 10 d as a food additive. Core body temperature of mice significantly decreased by approximately 1 °C after rearing in a cold environment, and PA administration significantly restored the reduction in core body temperature in a dose-dependent manner. After 10 d, splenic NK-cell activity of cold-stressed mice was significantly reduced, and the reduction was dose-dependently recovered by PA administration. An aconitine-type alkaloid fraction prepared from PA was ineffective when administered to cold-stressed mice, and the thermogenic effect on hypothermic mice was present in the fraction containing low-molecular-weight compounds without alkaloids. In cold-stressed mice, the weight of brown adipose tissue (BAT) and uncoupling protein (UCP)-1 level in BAT increased, whereas the weight of white adipose tissue decreased. The increase in UCP-1 level in BAT of cold-stressed mice was further augmented by PA treatment. These results indicate that PA exhibited a thermogenic effect on hypothermia induced by cold stress in mice by additional upregulation of UCP-1 level in BAT, which was already enhanced by hypothermia, and that the active ingredients present in PA are non-alkaloidal low-molecular-weight compounds.
2009 The Pharmaceutical Society of Japan