Sanguinarine and Its Role in Chronic Diseases

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2016:928:155-172. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-41334-1_7.


The use of natural products derived from plants as medicines precedes even the recorded human history. In the past few years there were renewed interests in developing natural compounds and understanding their target specificity for drug development for many devastating human diseases. This has been possible due to remarkable advancements in the development of sensitive chemistry and biology tools. Sanguinarine is a benzophenanthridine alkaloid derived from rhizomes of the plant species Sanguinaria canadensis. The alkaloid can exist in the cationic iminium and neutral alkanolamine forms. Sanguinarine is an excellent DNA and RNA intercalator where only the iminium ion binds. Both forms of the alkaloid, however, shows binding to functional proteins like serum albumins, lysozyme and hemoglobin. The molecule is endowed with remarkable biological activities and large number of studies on its various activities has been published potentiating its development as a therapeutic agent particularly for chronic human diseases like cancer, asthma, etc. In this article, we review the properties of this natural alkaloid, and its diverse medicinal applications in relation to how it modulates cell death signaling pathways and induce apoptosis through different ways, its utility as a therapeutic agent for chronic diseases and its biological effects in animal and human models. These data may be useful to understand the therapeutic potential of this important and highly abundant alkaloid that may aid in the development of sanguinarine-based therapeutic agents with high efficacy and specificity.

Keywords: Anticancer; Antimicrobial; Benzophenanthridine; Nucleic acid binding property; Sanguinarine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Benzophenanthridines / pharmacology
  • Benzophenanthridines / therapeutic use*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Drug Discovery
  • Humans
  • Isoquinolines / pharmacology
  • Isoquinolines / therapeutic use*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects


  • Benzophenanthridines
  • Isoquinolines
  • sanguinarine