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Front Pharmacol. 2019 Oct 3;10:1132. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2019.01132. eCollection 2019.

Closing the Gap Between Therapeutic Use and Mode of Action in Remedial Herbs.

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Research Group on Systems Pharmacology, Research Programme on Biomedical Informatics (GRIB), IMIM Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute, Barcelona, Spain.
Department of Experimental and Health Sciences, University Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain.


The ancient tradition of taking parts of a plant or preparing plant extracts for treating certain discomforts and maladies has long been lacking a scientific rationale to support its preparation and still widespread use in several parts of the world. In an attempt to address this challenge, we collected and integrated data connecting metabolites, plants, diseases, and proteins. A mechanistic hypothesis is generated when a metabolite is known to be present in a given plant, that plant is known to be used to treat a certain disease, that disease is known to be linked to the function of a given protein, and that protein is finally known or predicted to interact with the original metabolite. The construction of plant-protein networks from mutually connected metabolites and diseases facilitated the identification of plausible mechanisms of action for plants being used to treat analgesia, hypercholesterolemia, diarrhea, catarrh, and cough. Additional concrete examples using both experimentally known and computationally predicted, and subsequently experimentally confirmed, metabolite-protein interactions to close the connection circle between metabolites, plants, diseases, and proteins offered further proof of concept for the validity and scope of the approach to generate mode of action hypotheses for some of the therapeutic uses of remedial herbs.


endogenous metabolites; ethnopharmacology; mechanism of action; network pharmacology; phytochemicals; plant metabolomics; traditional medicine

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