The quality control of Chinese herbal medicines (CHM) is a key concern on the modernization and globalization. However, it is still a difficult task due to its multi-component, multi-target, multi-pathways. This study aims to provide a novel and comprehensive strategy for quality control in complex Chinese medicines (CHM) formulas by UHPLC-Q-Orbitrap HRMS and UHPLC-MS/MS combined with network pharmacology analysis. Tangshen formula (TSF) was used as an example for complex CHM formulas.
The UHPLC-Q-Orbitrap HRMS was firstly applied to identify or tentatively assign 85 compounds in TSF. Subsequently, key active compounds for TSF treating diabetic nephropathy (DN) were chose by chemical-target-pathways network in network pharmacology. The results showed that 13 key bioactive compounds against DN including naringin, daidzein, genistein, formononetin, chlorogenic acid, aloe-emodin, nobiletin, tangeritin, ginsenoside Rg1, hesperetin, hesperidin, rhein, and limonin with three high topological features in chemical-target-pathways network were selected as Q-markers for quality control of TSF.
Finally, the UHPLC-MS/MS was performed to simultaneously determine the concentrations of 13 Q-markers. And their concentrations were ranged from 11.57 to 3 788 µg·g-1. It suggested that many key bioactive compounds not only have high contents but also have wide range contents for the quality of complex CHM formulas. This study should be helpful to guide the selection of the Q-markers and provide new strategy for quality control of complex CHM formulas.