System Pharmacology and Network Pharmacology of TCM

Traditional Chinese medicine is a complex chemical system, which changes the physiological function or biochemical reaction of the body through the chemical substances. ‘Multi-component, multi-target, multi-pathway, overall regulation ‘ is considered to be the characteristics of traditional Chinese medicine (Figure 1). But so far, for the vast majority of traditional Chinese medicine and formula, only the meaning of ‘multi-component’ is relatively clear, and has mature plant chemistry and analytical chemistry research methods. Although the other three characteristics have clear meaning, they are still lack of mature empirical research. How to use modern scientific methods to clarify the therapeutic material basis and mechanism of traditional Chinese medicine has always been the difficulty and key point of research.

Mechanism of Multi-component and Multi-target of Traditional Chinese Medicine

The development of network pharmacology provides an effective way for the microscopic interpretation of pharmacological activities of TCM. Network pharmacology is a network method to analyze the relationship between drugs, targets and diseases. It has become a research hotspot in the theoretical method of new drug research and development, and has attracted great attention in pharmaceutical science, especially in traditional Chinese medicine researchers. By introducing network pharmacology technology and methods, the pharmacological mechanism of a large number of single and compound Chinese medicines has been studied, so that people have a clearer understanding of the therapeutic material basis and characteristics of Chinese medicines.


GO Enrichment of Chinese Herbal Formula Target


Network pharmacology of traditional Chinese medicine can be applied in the following research:

  1. Study on the mechanism of action of Chinese herbal compound and single herb. Through the collection and targeting of the chemical components of traditional Chinese medicine compound and single herb, the possible targets and their pathway were confirmed. By analysis of the information, the specific pharmacological activities of compound or single herb were finally associated, and the molecular level explanation was obtained.
  2. Determination of key compounds in traditional Chinese Medicine. Through network pharmacology research, the mechanism of action of traditional Chinese medicine on a certain disease can be explored, and the key targets and key pathways can be found, so as to determine the key active ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine for a certain disease.
  3. Discovery of new indications of Chinese herbal compound. By reverse targeting and network analysis, the regulation of metabolism and signal transduction pathways in vivo was analyzed, and the new efficacy of traditional Chinese medicine compound for other diseases was found, which provided prospective guidance for experimental research.
  4. New natural drug discovery. The most potential active ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine can be screened by systematic pharmacological methods such as oral bioavailability prediction, drug evaluation, multi-target prediction, and network pharmacology analysis, which provides a new model for the discovery of natural drugs.


  1. Network toxicology research. The concept of network toxicology was first proposed by Academician Liu Changxiao in 2011, aiming to construct network model and analyze causal relationship, so as to understand the toxic and side effects of drugs on the body and explore its toxic mechanism, which plays an important role in predicting the toxic components of traditional Chinese medicine.

Common analytical services of system pharmacology and network pharmacology

  • ADMET/T analysis of Chinese herbal medicine;
  • System pharmacological analysis of the whole set of Chinese herbal compound or single herb: including the collection of active ingredients, target prediction, drug-target network, target-target interaction network, function enrichment of target pathway, and provide suggestions for biological verification of the compound.
  • Target Analysis of Traditional Chinese Medicine Monomer: provide verified target information and prediction target based on network reasoning.
  • Virtual screening based on natural source database of Chinese herbal medicine


Part of the reference image source: Yang X. L.; Yuan Y. L.; et al.Exploring potential effect of Shengjiang San on SARS-CoV-2 based on network pharmacology and molecular docking.[J]. Chinese Traditional and Herbal Drugs, 2020, 51(7)