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BACKGROUND: Our previous studies on Asterothamnus centrali-asiaticus Novopokr. (ACN) and Arenaria kansuensis Maxim. (AKM) had led to the isolation of some phytochemical constituents and evaluation of anticonvulsant effect based on their extracts. ACN and AKM have been widely used in traditional Tibetan herbs for neuropsychiatric diseases and cardiopulmonary disorders.PURPOSE: The purpose is to investigate structure-activity relationships of flavonoids isolated from ACN and AKM, for binding to the benzodiazepine site (BZ-S) of γ-aminobutyric acid type A (GABAA) receptor complex, and to search for anticonvulsant compounds without undesirable effects such as myorelaxation and sedation. STUDY DESIGN AND METHODS: The affinities of these flavonoids for the BZ-S of GABAA receptors were determined by [3H]flunitrazepam binding to mouse cerebellum membranes in vitro. And the anticonvulsant, myorelaxant and sedative effects were determined by pentylenetetrazol (PTZ)-induced seizure and electrogenic seizure protection, rotarod test and locomotor activity test, respectively. RESULTS: Fifteen and thirteen flavonoids were isolated from ACN and AKM, respectively. Structure-activity relationships analysis indicated that 6-and/or 8-OMe flavones exhibited the most potent binding affinity to GABAA receptors. Furthermore, 2',4',5,7-tetrahydroxy-5',6-dimethoxyflavone (DMF, IC50 value of 0.10 μM), a flavone isolated from ACN, presented high anticonvulsant activity against chemical-induced seizures and electrogenic seizures, without myorelaxation and sedation. CONCLUSION: This study suggested that these flavones, especially DMF, are new BZ receptor ligands and prospective therapeutic candidates for seizures.