Antimalarial activity of the terpene nerolidol

Int J Antimicrob Agents. 2016 Dec;48(6):641-646. doi: 10.1016/j.ijantimicag.2016.08.017. Epub 2016 Sep 30.


Malaria, an infectious disease that kills more than 438,000 people per year worldwide, is a major public health problem. The emergence of strains resistant to conventional therapeutic agents necessitates the discovery of new drugs. We previously demonstrated that various substances, including terpenes, have antimalarial activity in vitro and in vivo. Nerolidol is a sesquiterpene present as an essential oil in several plants that is used in scented products and has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration as a food-flavouring agent. In this study, the antimalarial activity of nerolidol was investigated in a mouse model of malaria. Mice were infected with Plasmodium berghei ANKA and were treated with 1000 mg/kg/dose nerolidol in two doses delivered by the oral or inhalation route. In mice treated with nerolidol, parasitaemia was inhibited by >99% (oral) and >80% (inhalation) until 14 days after infection (P <0.0001). On Day 30 post-infection, the survival rate of orally treated mice was 90% compared with 16% in controls (P <0.0001). In contrast, inhalation-treated mice showed a survival rate of 50% vs. 42% in controls (P > 0.05). The toxicity of nerolidol administered by either route was not significant, whilst genotoxicity was observed only at the highest dose tested. These results indicate that combined use of nerolidol and other drugs targeting different points of the same isoprenoid pathway may be an effective treatment for malaria.

Keywords: BALB/c mice; Isoprenoids; Malaria; Nerolidol; Plasmodium berghei ANKA; Terpenes.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Administration, Oral
  • Animals
  • Antimalarials / administration & dosage*
  • Antimalarials / adverse effects
  • Antimalarials / pharmacology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions
  • Malaria / drug therapy*
  • Male
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Parasitemia / drug therapy
  • Plasmodium berghei / drug effects*
  • Sesquiterpenes / administration & dosage*
  • Sesquiterpenes / adverse effects
  • Sesquiterpenes / pharmacology
  • Survival Analysis
  • Terpenes / pharmacology
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antimalarials
  • Sesquiterpenes
  • Terpenes
  • nerolidol