Saponins are glycosides with triterpenoid or spirostane aglycones that demonstrate various pharmacological effects against mammalian diseases. To promote the research and development of anticancer agents from saponins, this review focuses on the anticancer properties of several typical naturally derived triterpenoid saponins (ginsenosides and saikosaponins) and steroid saponins (dioscin, polyphyllin, and timosaponin) isolated from Chinese medicines. These saponins exhibit in vitro and in vivo anticancer effects, such as anti-proliferation, anti-metastasis, anti-angiogenesis, anti-multidrug resistance, and autophagy regulation actions. In addition, related signaling pathways and target proteins involved in the anticancer effects of saponins are also summarized in this work.
Keywords: cancer; mechanism; steroid saponins; target; triterpenoid saponins.