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Elsholtzia densa Benth. var. densa (Lamiaceae) is a famous medicinal herb which has been widely used for treatment of colds, headaches, pharyngitis, fever, diarrhea, digestion disorder, rheumatic arthritis, nephritises, and nyctalopia in China. In this study, fraction of the ethyl alcohol extract of E. densa (aerial part) by different polarity solvents indicated that the ethyl acetate soluble fraction exhibited a potent 1,1-diphenyl-2-picryhydrazyl (DPPH) radical scavenging activity with the IC50 value of 148.2 μg/mL. Under the target guidance of DPPH experiment, isoquercitrin, trachelogenin, ethyl caffeate, and arctigenin were separated with purities 95.98%, 92.98%, 96.07%, and 88.83%, respectively, by a dual-mode high-speed counter-current chromatography (HSCCC) method using n-hexane–ethyl acetate–methanol–water (4.5:5:3:4, v/v/v/v) as the solvent system. In order to evaluate the scientific basis, antioxidant activity of four isolated compounds was assessed by the radical scavenging effect on DPPH radical; isoquercitrin and ethyl caffeate showed stronger antioxidant activities with IC50 values of 9.4 μg/mL and 9.2 μg/mL, respectively, while trachelogenin and arctigenin showed weak antioxidant activities with IC50 values of >500 μg/mL and 72.8 μg/mL, respectively. Results of the present study indicated that the combinative method using DPPH antioxidant assay and dual-mode HSCCC could be widely applied for rapid screening and isolating of antioxidants from complex traditional Chinese medicine extract.

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