Ecdysteroids are hormones controlling cell proliferation, growth and the developmental cycles of insects and other invertebrates1. They are occasionally present in various unrelated plants for no apparent reason; no phytohormonal function has yet been identified. In certain cases, ecdysteroids are accumulated to high levels in leaves, roots or seeds. Some ecdysteroid-containing plants have been known as medicinal plants for centuries. One of them,Leuzea carthamoides Iljin (Asteraceae), growing in Central Asia, contains 0.4% ecdysteroid in dry roots and 2% in seeds. A pharmacological preparation from this plant, ‘Ecdisten’, is already available as a commercial preparation for its anabolic, tonic and other effects, for medical use (review2). It remained problematic, however, whether ecdysteroids were truly responsible for these effects, becauseLeuzea contains a number of other biologically active compounds in addition to ecdysteroids. We extracted and purified ecdysteroids from the seeds ofLeuzea. With 6 g of 96% 20-hydroxyecdysone (20E), we made a large-scale feeding assay with Japanese quail to find out whether ecdysteroid alone could duplicate the anabolic effects of the seeds. We found that the 96% ecdysteroid increased the mass of the developing quails in a dose-dependent manner, with the rate of increase proportional to the ecdysteroid content in the seeds; there was a 115% increase in living mass with 100 mg kg−1 of pure 20E compared with 109.5% increase with 100–180 mg kg−1 20E equivalents in the seeds. We conclude that the plethora of growth-promoting, vitamin-like effects induced in vertebrates byLeuzea is mediated by ecdysteroids.
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Sláma, K., Koudela, K., Tenora, J. et al. Insect hormones in vertebrates: Anabolic effects of 20-hydroxyecdysone in Japanese quail. Experientia 52, 702–706 (1996). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01925578