In vitro antiprotozoan activity and mechanisms of action of selected Ghanaian medicinal plants against Trypanosoma, Leishmania, and Plasmodium parasites

Phytother Res. 2018 Aug;32(8):1617-1630. doi: 10.1002/ptr.6093. Epub 2018 May 7.


Trypanosomiasis, leishmaniasis, and malaria are protozoan infections of public health importance with thousands of new cases recorded annually. Control of these infection(s) with existing chemotherapy is limited by drug toxicity, lengthy parenteral treatment, affordability, and/or the emergence of resistant strains. Medicinal plants on the other hand are used in the treatment of various infectious diseases although their chemical properties are not fully evaluated. In this study, we screened 112 crude extracts from 72 selected Ghanaian medicinal plants for anti-Trypanosoma, anti-Leishmania, and anti-Plasmodium activities in vitro and investigated their mechanisms of action. Twenty-three extracts from 20 plants showed significant antiprotozoan activity against at least 1 of 3 protozoan parasites screened with IC50 values less than 20 μg/ml. Eleven extracts showed high anti-Trypanosoma activity with Bidens pilosa whole plant and Morinda lucida leaf extracts recording the highest activities. Their IC50 (selectivity index [SI]) values were 5.51 μg/ml (35.00) and 5.96 μg/ml (13.09), respectively. Nine extracts had high anti-Leishmania activity with Annona senegalensis and Cassia alata leaf extracts as the most active. Their IC50 (SI) values were 10.8 μg/ml (1.50) and 10.1 μg/ml (0.37), respectively. Six extracts had high anti-Plasmodium activity with the leaf and stem-bark extracts of Terminalia ivorensis recording the highest activity. Their IC50 (SI) values were 7.26 μg/ml (129.36) and 17.45 μg/ml (17.17), respectively. Only M. lucida at 25 μg/ml induced significant apoptosis-like cell death in Trypanosoma parasites. Anti-Leishmania active extracts induced varying morphological changes in Leishmania parasites such as multiple nuclei and/or kinetoplast, incomplete flagella division, or nuclear fragmentation. Active extracts may be potential sources for developing new chemotherapy against these infections.

Keywords: Leishmania donovani; Plasmodium falciparum; Trypanosoma brucei brucei; apoptosis; in vitro screening; medicinal plants; morphology.

MeSH terms

  • Antiprotozoal Agents / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis
  • Ghana
  • Humans
  • Jurkat Cells
  • Leishmania / drug effects*
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology*
  • Plants, Medicinal / chemistry*
  • Plasmodium / drug effects*
  • Trypanosoma / drug effects*


  • Antiprotozoal Agents
  • Plant Extracts