Souroubea sympetala (Marcgraviaceae): a medicinal plant that exerts anxiolysis through interaction with the GABAA benzodiazepine receptor

Document Type



Brain and Mind Institute


The mode of action of the anxiolytic medicinal plant Souroubea sympetala was investigated to test the hypothesis that extracts and the active principle act at the pharmacologically important GABAA–benzodiazepine (GABAA–BZD) receptor. Leaf extracts prepared by ethyl acetate extraction or supercritical extraction, previously determined to have 5.54 mg/g and 6.78 mg/g of the active principle, betulinic acid, respectively, reduced behavioural parameters associated with anxiety in a rat model. When animals were pretreated with the GABAA–BZD receptor antagonist flumazenil, followed by the plant extracts, or a more soluble derivative of the active principle, the methyl ester of betulinic acid (MeBA), flumazenil eliminated the anxiety-reducing effect of plant extracts and MeBA, demonstrating that S. sympetala acts via an agonist action on the GABAA–BZD receptor. An in vitro GABAA–BZD competitive receptor binding assay also demonstrated that S. sympetala extracts have an affinity for the GABAA–BZD receptor, with an EC50 value of 123 μg/mL (EtOAc leaf extract) and 154 μg/mL (supercritical CO2 extract). These experiments indicate that S. sympetala acts at the GABAA–BZD receptor to elicit anxiolysis.


This work was published before the author joined Aga Khan University.

Publication (Name of Journal)

Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology