Supercritical fluid chromatography for separation and preparation of tautomeric 7-epimeric spiro oxindole alkaloids fromUncaria macrophylla

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Increasing challenge arising from configurational interconversion in aqueous solvent renders it rather difficult to isolate high-purity tautomeric reference standards and thus largely hinders the holistic quality control of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Spiro oxindole alkaloids (SOAs), as the markers for the medicinal Uncaria herbs, can easily isomerize in polar or aqueous solvent via a retro-Mannich reaction. In the present study, supercritical fluid chromatography (SFC) is utilized to separate and isolate two pairs of 7-epimeric SOAs, including rhynchophylline (R) and isorhynchophylline (IR), corynoxine (C) and corynoxine B (CB), from Uncaria macrophylla. Initially, the solvent that can stabilize SOA epimers was systematically screened, and acetonitrile was used to dissolve and as the modifier in SFC. Then, key parameters of ultra-high performance SFC (ultra-performance convergence chromatography, UPC2), comprising stationary phase, additive in modifier, column temperature, ABPR pressure, and flow rate, were optimized in sequence. Two isocratic UPC2 methods were developed on the achiral Torus 1-AA and Torus Diol columns, suitable for UV and MS detection, respectively. MCI gel column chromatography fractionated the U. macrophylla extract into two mixtures (R/IR and C/CB). Preparative SFC, using a Viridis Prep Silica 2-EP OBD column and acetonitrile-0.2% diethylamine in CO2 as the mobile phase, was finally employed for compound purification. As a result, the purity of four SOA compounds was all higher than 95%. Different from reversed-phase HPLC, SFC, by use of water-free mobile phase (inert CO2 and aprotic modifier), provides a solution to rapid analysis and isolation of tautomeric reference standards for quality control of TCM.

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