Alkaloids of Peganum harmala: Anticancer Biomarkers with Promising Outcomes

Curr Pharm Des. 2021;27(2):185-196. doi: 10.2174/1381612826666201125103941.


Background: Cancer is a serious and growing global health issue worldwide. In the cancerous cells, the normal cell cycle has been disrupted via a series of irreversible changes. Recently, the investigations on herbal medicine and clarifying the phytochemicals potential in treat cancer has been increased. The combination of phytochemicals with conventional cancer treatment approaches can improve outcomes via advancing cell death, restraining cell proliferation and invasion, sensitizing cancerous cells, and promoting the immune system. Therefore, phytochemicals can be introduced as relevant complementary medicaments in cancer therapy. Peganum harmala L. (Zygophyllaceae) as a valuable medicinal herb, possesses various alkaloid ingredient.

Objective: Pointing to the importance of new avenues for cancer management and P. harmala convincing effect in this field, this review strived to collect a frame to epitome possible scopes to develop novel medicines in cancer treatment.

Methods: Keywords "Peganum harmala" and cancer, or chemotherapy, or anti-neoplasm were searched through the "Scopus" database up to 29th of February 2020. Papers linking to agriculture, chemistry, environmental, and genetics sciences were omitted and, papers centered on cancer were selected.

Results and discussion: In the current study, 42 related papers to cancer treatment and 22 papers on alkaloid bioactive components are collected from 72 papers. The β-carboline alkaloids derived from P. harmala, especially harmine, demonstrate notable anticancer properties by targeting apoptosis, autophagy, abnormal cell proliferation, angiogenesis, metastasis, and cytotoxicity. Based on the collected information, P. harmala holds significant anticancer activity. Considering the mechanism of the various anticancer drugs and their acting similarity to P. harmala, the alkaloids derived from this herb, particularly harmine, can introduce as a novel anticancer medicine solely or in adjuvant cancer therapy.

Keywords: Anti-neoplasm; Peganum harmala; cancer; chemotherapy; harmine; phytochemical.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alkaloids* / pharmacology
  • Biomarkers
  • Peganum*
  • Plant Extracts
  • Seeds


  • Alkaloids
  • Biomarkers
  • Plant Extracts