BackgroundKnee osteoarthritis is a common joint degenerative disease. Xiao Huoluo Pills (XHLP) has been used to treat degenerative diseases such as osteoarthritis and hyperosteogeny. However, XHLP’s specific effective ingredients and mechanism of action against osteoarthritis have not been explored. Therefore, bioinformatics technology and molecular docking technology are employed in this study to explore the molecular basis and mechanism of XHLP in the treatment of knee osteoarthritis.MethodsPublic databases (TCMSP, Batman-TCM, HERB, DrugBank, and UniProt) are used to find the effective active components and corresponding target proteins of XHLP (screening conditions: OB > 30%, DL ≥ 0.18). Differentially expressed genes related to cartilage lesions of knee osteoarthritis are obtained based on the GEO database (screening conditions: adjust P value < 0.01, |log2 FC|≥1.0). The Venn package in R language and the BisoGenet plug-in in Cytoscape are adopted to predict the potential molecules of XHLP in the treatment of knee osteoarthritis. The XHLP-active component-target interaction network and the XHLP-knee osteoarthritis-target protein core network are constructed using Cytoscape software. Besides, GO/KEGG enrichment analysis on core genes is performed using the Bioconductor package and clusterProfiler package in the R language to explain the biological functions and signal pathways of the core proteins. Finally, molecular docking is performed through software such as Vina, LeDock, Discovery Studio 2016, PyMOL, AutoDockTools 1.5.6, so as to verify the binding ability between the active components of the drug and the core target protein.ResultsXHLP has been screened out of 71 potentially effective active compounds for the treatment of OA, mainly including quercetin, Stigmasterol, beta-sitosterol, Izoteolin, and ellagic acid. Knee osteoarthritis cartilage lesion sequencing data (GSE114007) was screened out of 1672 differentially expressed genes, including 913 upregulated genes and 759 downregulated genes, displayed as heat maps and volcano maps. Besides, 33 core target proteins are calculated by Venn data package in R and BisoGenet plug-in in Cytoscape. The enrichment analysis on these target genes revealed that the core target genes are mainly involved in biological processes such as response to oxygen levels, mechanical stimulus, vitamin, drug, and regulation of smooth muscle cell proliferation. These core target genes are involved in signaling pathways related to cartilage degeneration of knee osteoarthritis such as TNF signaling pathway and PI3K-Akt signaling pathway. Finally, the molecular docking verification demonstrates that some active components of the drug have good molecular docking and binding ability with the core target protein, further confirming that XHLP has the effect of inhibiting cartilage degeneration in knee osteoarthritis.ConclusionsIn this study, based on the research foundation of bioinformatics and molecular docking technology, the active components and core target molecules of XHLP for the treatment of cartilage degeneration of knee osteoarthritis are screened out, and the potential mechanism of XHLP inhibiting cartilage degeneration of knee osteoarthritis is deeply explored. The results provide theoretical basis and new treatment plan for XHLP in the treatment of knee osteoarthritis.