Artemisinin: mechanisms of action, resistance and toxicity

Int J Parasitol. 2002 Dec 4;32(13):1655-60. doi: 10.1016/s0020-7519(02)00194-7.


Artemisinin and its derivatives are widely used throughout the world. The mechanism of action of these compounds appears to involve the heme-mediated decomposition of the endoperoxide bridge to produce carbon-centred free radicals. The involvement of heme explains why the drugs are selectively toxic to malaria parasites. The resulting carbon-centred free radicals are alkylate heme and proteins, one of which is the translationally controlled tumour protein. Clinically relevant artemisinin resistance has not been demonstrated, but it is likely to occur since artemisinin resistance has been obtained in laboratory models. At high doses, artemisinin can be neurotoxic but toxicity has not been found in clinical studies. The mechanism of neurotoxicity may be similar to the mechanism of action.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antimalarials / adverse effects
  • Antimalarials / pharmacology*
  • Artemisinins / adverse effects
  • Artemisinins / pharmacology*
  • Drug Resistance
  • Humans
  • Plasmodium / drug effects*
  • Sesquiterpenes / adverse effects
  • Sesquiterpenes / pharmacology*
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Antimalarials
  • Artemisinins
  • Sesquiterpenes
  • artemisinine