Erzhi Pill (EZP), a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) prescription, has been widely applied to improve bone metabolism and treat osteoporosis (OP) in China. However, its effective constituents and mechanisms remain unclear.
By combining network pharmacology and zebrafish experiments, an integrative method was employed to address this problem. Firstly, the disease targets of OP were collected from two public gene databases. Secondly, the active compounds and drug targets of EZP were obtained from the traditional Chinese medicine systems pharmacology database and analysis platform (TCMSP). Thirdly, a drug-target-disease interaction network was constructed, and the key active components were identified by analyzing the topological characteristics of the network. Finally, these predicted results were tested by zebrafish experiments and compared with those from the literature. Specifically, quercetin as an important representative active component of EZP was applied to wild type and transgenic zebrafish larvae to assess its effects on skull mineralization and osteoplastic differentiation.
Our study identified 72 active compounds, 220 targets and 166 signaling pathways probably involved in the prevention and treatment of OP by EZP, wherein quercetin, apigenin, daidzein, luteolin, ursolic acid and kaempferol could be the key compounds, while PI3K-Akt signaling pathway, TNF signaling pathway and IL-17 signaling pathway could be the key signaling pathways. The experiments indicated that quercetin attenuated both the decrease of skull mineralization and the inhibition of skull osteoplastic differentiation in zebrafish larvae trigged by dexamethasone.