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Epimedium pubescens Maxim. and Epimedium koreanum Nakai. are two common and confused species of Herba Epimedii in Chinese Pharmacopoeia 2010 edition. Different species and growing conditions lead to chemical differences between the two species which may result in the improper clinical usage. In this work, a new method based on rapid-resolution liquid chromatography combined with time-of-flight mass spectrometry (RRLC/TOFMS) has been developed for identification and differentiation of major flavonoids in two kinds of Epimedium extract and rat plasma. The compounds were identified effectively based on the accurate extract masses and formulae acquired by RRLC/TOFMS. The fragmentation rules deduced by collision-induced dissociation (CID) were successfully implemented in distinguishing some of the isomers, further validating the results. By using the combined analytical techniques, a total of 40 major flavonoids in extracts of two kinds of Epimedium were identified within 30 min, including 31 common components and 9 characteristic components. After oral administration, three prototype compounds in rat plasma were detected by comparing the constituents measured in vitro with those in vivo, and five metabolites were identified by contrasting the fragmentation rules. The identification and structural elucidation of the chemical constituents provided essential data for further pharmacological and clinical studies on different species of Epimedium.

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