Review Article

Research progress on the protective effects of licorice-derived 18β-glycyrrhetinic acid against liver injury

Authors: Shou-yan Wu1,2, Wen-jie Wang1,2, Jin-hui Dou3, Li-kun Gong1,2
1 Center for Drug Safety Evaluation and Research, State Key Laboratory of Drug Research, Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shanghai 201203, China
2 University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
3 National Center for Natural Products Research, School of Pharmacy, University of Mississippi, University, Oxford, MS 38677, USA
Correspondence to: Li-kun Gong:,
DOI: 10.1038/s41401-020-0383-9
Received: 24 August 2019
Accepted: 19 February 2020
Advance online: 6 March 2020


The first description of the medical use of licorice appeared in “Shennong Bencao Jing”, one of the well-known Chinese herbal medicine classic books dated back to 220–280 AD. As one of the most commonly prescribed Chinese herbal medicine, licorice is known as “Guo Lao”, meaning “a national treasure” in China. Modern pharmacological investigations have confirmed that licorice possesses a number of biological activities, such as antioxidation, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, immune regulation, and liver protection. 18β-glycyrrhetinic acid is one of the most extensively studied active integrants of licorice. Here, we provide an overview of the protective effects of 18β-glycyrrhetinic acid against various acute and chronic liver diseases observed in experimental models, and summarize its pharmacological effects and potential toxic/side effects at higher doses. We also make additional comments on the important areas that may warrant further research to support appropriate clinical applications of 18β-glycyrrhetinic acid and avoid potential risks.
Keywords: 18β-glycyrrhetic acid; licorice preparation; liver injury; glycyrrhetinic acid target

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