Open Access Open Badges Research article

Characterizing the cytoprotective activity of Sarracenia purpurea L., a medicinal plant that inhibits glucotoxicity in PC12 cells

Cory S Harris123*, Muhammad Asim2, Ammar Saleem2, Pierre S Haddad4, John T Arnason2 and Steffany AL Bennett1

Author Affiliations

1 Neural Regeneration Laboratory and Ottawa Institute of Systems Biology, Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology, and Immunology, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada

2 Centre for Research in Biopharmaceuticals and Biotechnology, Department of Biology, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON, Canada

3 Centre for Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition and Environment School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition McGill University, Ste. Anne de Bellevue, Québec, Canada

4 Natural Health Products and Metabolic Diseases Laboratory, Department of Pharmacology, Université de Montréal and Montreal Diabetes Research Center, Montréal, QC, Canada

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2012, 12:245  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-12-245

Published: 5 December 2012



The purple pitcher plant, Sarracenia purpurea L., is a widely distributed species in North America with a history of use as both a marketed pain therapy and a traditional medicine in many aboriginal communities. Among the Cree of Eeyou Istchee in northern Québec, the plant is employed to treat symptoms of diabetes and the leaf extract demonstrates multiple anti-diabetic activities including cytoprotection in an in vitro model of diabetic neuropathy. The current study aimed to further investigate this activity by identifying the plant parts and secondary metabolites that contribute to these cytoprotective effects.


Ethanolic extracts of S. purpurea leaves and roots were separately administered to PC12 cells exposed to glucose toxicity with subsequent assessment by two cell viability assays. Assay-guided fractionation of the active extract and fractions was then conducted to identify active principles. Using high pressure liquid chromatography together with mass spectrometry, the presence of identified actives in both leaf and root extracts were determined.


The leaf extract, but not that of the root, prevented glucose-mediated cell loss in a concentration-dependent manner. Several fractions elicited protective effects, indicative of multiple active metabolites, and, following subfractionation of the polar fraction, hyperoside (quercetin-3-O-galactoside) and morroniside were isolated as active constituents. Phytochemical analysis confirmed the presence of hyperoside in the leaf but not root extract and, although morroniside was detected in both organs, its concentration was seven times higher in the leaf.


Our results not only support further study into the therapeutic potential and safety of S. purpurea as an alternative and complementary treatment for diabetic complications associated with glucose toxicity but also identify active principles that can be used for purposes of standardization and quality control.

Diabetic neuropathy; Glucose toxicity; Traditional medicine; Quercetin-3-O-galactoside; Morroniside