Natural small-molecule phenols (NSMPs) share some bioactivities. The anxiolytic activity of NSMPs is attracting attention in the scientific community. This paper provides data supporting the hypothesis that NSMPs are generally anxiolytic. The anxiolytic activities of seven simple phenols, including phloroglucinol, eugenol, protocatechuic aldehyde, vanillin, thymol, ferulic acid, and caffeic acid, were assayed with the elevated plus maze (EPM) test in mice. The oral doses were 5, 10 and 20 mg/kg, except for phloroglucinol for which the doses were 2.5, 5 and 10 mg/kg. All tested phenols had anxiolytic activity in mice. The phenolic hydroxyl group in 4-hydroxycinnamic acid (4-OH CA) was essential for the anxiolytic activity in the EPM test in mice and rats compared to 4-chlorocinnamic acid (4-Cl CA). The in vivo spike recording of rats’ hippocampal neurons also showed significant differences between 4-OH CA and 4-Cl CA. Behavioral and neuronal spike recording results converged to indicate the hippocampal CA1 region might be a part of the anxiolytic pathways of 4-OH CA. Therefore, our study provides further experimental data supporting NSMPs sharing anxiolytic activity, which may have general implications for phytotherapy because small phenols occur extensively in herbal medicines.
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