The Chemical Diversity of Bioactive Molecules and Therapeutic Potential of Medicinal Plants

K.G. Ramawat, S. Dass and Meeta Mathur

Abstract The therapeutic use of herbs is as old as human civilization and has evolved along with it. The vast majority of people on this planet still rely on their indigenous system of medicine and use herbal drugs. The Indian and Chinese systems of medicine are well established with written records going back around 3000 years. Medicinal plant drug discovery continues to provide new and important leads against various pharmacological targets including cancer, malaria, cardiovascular diseases and neurological disorders. Interest in herbal drugs and natural medicine is undergoing a renaissance at the present time. The medicinal properties of plants are due to the presence of active principles. These bioactive secondary metabolites are synthesized by two principal pathways: shikimic acid or aromatic amino acid, and mevalonic acid. Alkaloids, phenolics and terpenoids constitute many pharmacologically active compounds. Several natural-product drugs of plant origin have either recently been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), including arteether, galanthamine and triotopium, or are in clinical trials. Although drug discovery from medicinal plants continues to provide an important source of new drug leads, this work is constrained by the unavailability of sufficient plant material, selection and implementation of appropriate high-throughput screening bioassay and the production of bioactive compounds in large quantities. This article reviews the use of herbs in traditional systems and bioactive therapeutic molecules responsible for this activity.

Keywords Herbal drugs • Traditional medicine • Secondary metabolites • Alkaloids • Terpenes • Polyphenolics

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