Scientific Name(s): Moschus moschiferus L.
Common Name(s): Deer musk, Musk, Tonquin musk
The musk deer (M. moschiferus) is a small, solitary animal that attains a stature of only 0.5 m. It is native to mountainous regions of Asia, including Tibet, and throughout 17 provinces in China.1, 2
Musk is an odiferous secretion derived from the musk gland under the abdomen near the pubis of the male musk deer. The glands weigh up to 30 g and contain about half their weight in musk. There are two methods of obtaining musk. In the first method, the trapped deer is killed in late winter or early spring and the gland is removed. Alternately, musk is collected from deer raised in captivity. The musk is removed from the gland of immobilized animals by use of a special spoon. The musk is collected once or twice a year.3, 4 The dried whole gland (known as the pod) or the dried glandular secretions inside (musk grains) are employed in commerce as a perfume. Although traditionally derived from deer that had been killed for the express purpose of musk collection, the material today is largely obtained from deer specifically raised for musk production.
This material should not be confused with musk-root (Ferula sumbul Hook, Family: Apiaceae), which is sometimes used as a substitute for musk in the perfume industry.5
The use of musk dates back more than 1,300 years when it was used by rulers of early Chinese dynasties. Consequently, it has a broad historical tradition in Chinese herbal medicine and has been used for potentiation of β-adrenergic activity, cardiovascular stimulation, and as an anti-inflammatory. Today, it is used as a component of fragrances and as a fixative in perfumes.1, 6
The fresh musk secretion is a dark brown viscous semi-solid that turns to brownish-yellow or purple-red granules when dried. The term musk is used to describe other materials with a similar odor, although these preparations may be of synthetic or herbal origins.1
When distilled, musk yields the principles muscone, muskone (0.3% to 2%), and normuscone. Muscone or 3-methylcyclopentadecanone, 1 is the key flavor component of musk. Two androstane alkaloids were isolated from the musk of M. moschiferus, and the structures revealed by 2-dimensional nuclear magnetic resonance analysis. The structures were 3α-ureido-androst-4-en-17-one and 3α-ureido-androst-4-en-17β-ol. Other compounds present in musk include steroids, paraffins, triglycerides, waxes, mucopyridine, and other nitrogenous substances, and fatty acids.1, 3, 4, 6 Use of musk formulations are a source of banned steroidal substances identified in sports drug testing.13
Cyclopentadecanone is a synthetic compound that differs from muscone only in the absence of a methyl group.4
Uses and Pharmacology
Musk's unique odor has made it an important component of perfumes.
Anti-inflammatory and antihistaminic activity
Musk is reported to have anti-inflammatory and antihistaminic activity in animal models. Its anti-inflammatory activity has been reported to exceed that of phenylbutazone in rats with experimentally induced adjuvant arthritis.1
In one study, musk was used in combination with herbs that appeared to inhibit and delay platelet aggregation.7
Musk has been shown to have a beneficial effect in patients suffering from angina, with a therapeutic effect comparable with that observed with nitroglycerin.1
Other reported activity
Musk may have spasmolytic, CNS-depressant, stimulant, and antibacterial activity.1
None well documented.
Use of musk formulations are a source of banned steroidal substances identified in sports drug testing.13
Pregnancy / Lactation
Compounds derived from the musk deer are highly lipophilic and have been found to bioaccumulate in human fat and milk. Although musk is primarily used topically, caution of its use during pregnancy and lactation may be warranted because of a lack of toxicity data.8
A dose-dependent induction of CYP450 1A1 and 1A2 was observed in liver microsomes of adult rats fed synthetic musk. Substrates for CYP1A2 include acetaminophen, caffeine, tamoxifen, theophylline, and warfarin; although clinical and drug-interaction data are lacking, counseling may be warranted for patients using musk with a narrow therapeutic index drug (eg, warfarin).8
As with many naturally derived compounds that are applied topically, there is a potential for a skin hypersensitivity reaction. Musk components are known to cause a variety of dermal reactions, including pigmented dermatitis following the application of musk-containing rouge9 and photoallergic contact dermatitis following the use of musk-containing fragrances.10 In a survey of dermatology clinics in Scandinavia, musk ambrette was among the leading topical photosensitizers reported.11 This material was similarly cited as one of the most photosensitizing compounds reported by Mayo Clinic patients.12
Review of the scientific literature reveals no reports of systemic toxicity with the use of musk.
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