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Cell Mol Biol (Noisy-le-grand). 2000 Feb;46(1):199-214.

Modulation of programmed cell death by medicinal plants.

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Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Seth GS Medical College, Parel, Mumbai, India.


Programmed cell death (apoptosis), a form of cell death, described by Kerr and Wyllie some 20 years ago, has generated considerable interest in recent years. The mechanisms by which this mode of cell death (seen both in animal and plant cells), takes place have been examined in detail. Extracellular signals and intracellular events have been elaborated. Of interest to the clinician, is the concentrated effort to study pharmacological modulation of programmed cell death. The attempt to influence the natural phenomenon of programmed cell death stems from the fact that it is reduced (like in cancer) or increased (like in neurodegenerative diseases) in several clinical situations. Thus, chemicals that can modify programmed cell death are likely to be potentially useful drugs. From foxglove, which gave digitalis to the Pacific Yew from which came taxol, plants have been a source of research material for useful drugs. Recently, a variety of plant extracts have been investigated for their ability to influence the apoptotic process. This article discusses some of the interesting data. The ability of plants to influence programmed cell death in cancerous cells in an attempt to arrest their proliferation has been the topic of much research. Various cell-lines like HL60, human hepatocellular carcinoma cell line (KIM-1), a cholangiocarcinoma cell-line (KMC-1), B-cell hybridomas, U937 a monocytic cell-line, HeLa cells, human lymphoid leukemia (MOLT-4B) cells and K562 cells have been studied. The agents found to induce programmed cell death (measured either morphologically or flow cytometrically) included extracts of plants like mistletoe and Semicarpus anacardium. Isolated compounds like bryonolic acid (from Trichosanthes kirilowii var. Japonica, crocin (from saffron) and allicin (from Allium sativum) have also been found to induce programmed cell death and therefore arrest proliferation. Even Chinese herbal medicine "Sho-saiko-to" induces programmed cell death in selected cancerous cell lines. Of considerable interest is the finding that Panax ginseng prevents irradiation-induced programmed cell death in hair follicles, suggesting important therapeutic implications. Nutraceuticals (dietary plants) like soya bean, garlic, ginger, green tea, etc. which have been suggested, in epidemiological studies, to reduce the incidence of cancer may do so by inducing programmed cell death. Soy bean extracts have been shown to prevent development of diseases like polycystic kidneys, while Artemisia asiatica attenuates cerulein-induced pancreatitis in rats. Interestingly enough, a number of food items as well as herbal medicines have been reported to produce toxic effects by inducing programmed cell death. For example, programmed cell death in isolated rat hepatocytes has been implicated in the hepatitis induced by a herbal medicine containing diterpinoids from germander. Other studies suggest that rapid progression of the betel- and tobacco-related oral squamous cell carcinomas may be associated with a simultaneous involvement of p53 and c-myc leading to inhibition of programmed cell death. Several mechanisms have been identified to underlie the modulation of programmed cell death by plants including endonuclease activation, induction of p53, activation of caspase 3 protease via a Bcl-2-insensitive pathway, potentiate free-radical formation and accumulation of sphinganine. Programmed cell death is a highly conserved mechanism of self-defense, also found to occur in plants. Hence, it is natural to assume that chemicals must exist in them to regulate programmed cell death in them. Thus, plants are likely to prove to be important sources of agents that will modulate programmed cell death.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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