Peganum harmala L. is a well-known medicinal plant, widely distributed and used in folk medicine. Recently, numerous reports have been published regarding the pharmacological and therapeutic effects of P. harmala and its major alkaloids components. However, mammalian toxicity due to P. harmala alkaloids extract has been rarely investigated. The present research aimed to study the genotoxic effects of harmala plant extract in relation to traditional use. Harmala crude alkaloid was extracted and the toxicity of the extract was examined on albino mice by intraperitoneal injection. The genotoxic effects of the alkaloid extract was tested on bone marrow cells isolated from sacrificed mice. The total seeds alkaloids showed moderate toxic effects on male albino mice with LD50 350 mg/ Kg body weight. P. harmala alkaloids extract showed significant reduction in the mitotic index (MI) and increased depression of mammalian cells division possibly through chromosomal aberrations. P. harmala alkaloids induced different types of chromosome aberrations including rings, breaks, polyploidy, sticky, laggards and bridges with the sticky form as the most abundant type. Furthermore, P. harmala alkaloids induced a significant increase in sister chromatid exchange (SCE) compared to untreated controls. The frequency of micronuclei was increased with increasing the concentration but was not affected by increasing the exposure time. The medicinal use of harmala should be under control since higher doses and/ or longer exposure is genotoxic. An amount of plant that contains ≥ 12 mg alkaloids cannot be safe for traditional use.
Key words: Peganum harmala, genotoxicity, chromosome aberration, sister chromatid exchange.
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