Objective To examine the potential effector mechanisms of Xuebijing (XBJ) on coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) based on network pharmacology.
Methods We searched Chinese and international papers to obtain the active ingredients of XBJ. Then, we compiled COVID-19 disease targets from the GeneCards gene database and via literature searches. Next, we used the SwissTargetPrediction database to predict XBJ’s effector targets and map them to the abovementioned COVID-19 disease targets in order to obtain potential therapeutic targets of XBJ. Cytoscape software version 3.7.0 was used to construct a “XBJ active-compound–potential-effector target” network and protein–protein interaction (PPI) network, and then to carry out network topology analysis of potential targets. We used the ClueGO and CluePedia plugins in Cytoscape to conduct gene ontology (GO) Biological Process (BP) analysis and Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes (KEGG) signaling pathway enrichment analysis of XBJ’s effector targets.
Results We obtained 147 potential COVID-19 effector targets of XBJ. Fourteen of these targets—glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GAPDH), albumin (ALB), tumor necrosis factor (TNF), epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), mitogen-activated protein kinase 1 (MAPK1), Caspase-3 (CASP3), signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3), MAPK8, prostaglandin-endoperoxide synthase 2 (PTGS2), JUN, interleukin-2 (IL-2), Estrogen Receptor 1 (ESR1), and MAPK14—had degree values > 40 and therefore could be considered key targets. They participated in extracellular signal–regulated kinase 1 and 2 (ERK1, ERK2) cascade, the T-cell receptor signaling pathway, activation of MAPK activity, cellular response to lipopolysaccharide (LPS), and other inflammation- and immune-related BPs. XBJ exerted its therapeutic effects through the renin–angiotensin system (RAS), nuclear factor κ-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells (NF-κB), MAPK, phosphatidylinositol-4,5-bisphosphate 3-kinase (PI3K)–protein kinase B (Akt)–vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), toll-like receptor (TLR), TNF, and inflammatory-mediator regulation of transient receptor potential (TRP) signaling pathways to ultimately construct a “ingredient–target–pathway” effector network.
Conclusion: The active ingredients of XBJ regulated different genes, acted on different pathways, and synergistically produced anti-inflammatory and immune-regulatory effects, which fully demonstrated the synergistic effects of different components on multiple targets and pathways. The results of this study validated current pharmacological mechanistic studies of XBJ in the treatment of sepsis and severe pneumonia and could better explain XBJ’s effector mechanisms in the clinical treatment of COVID-19.