Background: Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is one of the most malignant tumors. The in vitro experiments on the application of Anhydroicaritin (AHI), the active ingredient of Bushen Huayu Decoction, in HCC treatment remain limited, particularly regarding its molecular mechanism.

Methods: The TCMSP platform was used for drug ingredient screening. The GeneCards database and DisGeNET database are used to collect liver cancer targets. PPI network construction of active component-target intersection target was completed with string database. The GO and KEGG pathway analyses were performed via bioinformatics analysis. The molecular docking was used to confirm AHI’s target proteins. The in vitro experiments were performed to validate the effect of AHI on HCC cell and explore the molecular mechanism by western blotting analysis.

Results: Through the intersection, 155 intersection targets are finally obtained. The top 15 active ingredients were quercetin, kaempferol, beta-sitosterol, luteolin, beta-carotene, Stigmasterol, naringenin, formononetin, baicalein, Anhydroicaritin, isorhamnetin, licochalcone, 7-O-methylisomucronulatol, aloe-emodin and 8-O-Methylreyusi. The molecular mocking analysis showed that the four active components (quercetin, kaempferol, luteolin and AHI) and targets had a good binding activity (affinity ≤ 5 kcal/mol). In vitro experiments reveled that AHI could suppress tumor proliferation, invasion and metastasis of HCC cells. Further analysis showed that AHI inhibited tumor growth by PI3K/AKT signal pathway in HCC.

Conclusions: The Bushen Huayu Decoction and its active ingredient AHI could fight HCC. The potential mechanism may be associated with inhibiting the activation of PI3K/AKT signal pathway, which may serve as a potential treatment for HCC therapy.