J Nat Prod. 1987 Nov-Dec; 50(6): 1025-40.
A modern look at folkloric use of anti-infective agents.
Department of Medicinal Chemistry, University of Kansas, Lawrence 66045.
Infectious diseases are of ancient origin, and mankind has a venerable history of use of higher plant extracts for the therapy of such infections. Some such agents survive in use from earlier times--quinine, emetine, and sanguinarine, for example--but the modern use of fermentation-based antibiotics has greatly overshadowed work on agents from other sources. After a brief review of the present status of the field of antibiotics, this review focuses upon the present status of antimicrobial agents from higher plants with particular reference to agents from plants with a folkloric reputation for treatment of infections. In particular, recent work on the tropical genus Erythrina is emphasized. The use of modern microbiological techniques demonstrates that higher plants frequently exhibit significant potency against human bacterial and fungal pathogens, that many genera are involved, that many folkloric uses can be rationalized on this basis, that the active constituents are readily isolated by bioassay-directed techniques, that their chemical structures are types uncommon amongst fermentation-based agents but are familiar to natural product chemists, that their antimicrobial spectra are comparatively narrow but that their potency is often reasonable, that they are comparatively easy to synthesize and the unnatural analogues so produced can possess enhanced therapeutic potential and, thus, it is concluded that such work generates a gratifying number of novel lead structures and that the possibility of finding additional agents for human or agricultural use based upon higher plant agents is realistic.