Ethnopharmacological relevance: Prunus africana (Hook.f.) Kalkman (Rosaceae), commonly known as "Pygeum" or "African cherry", occurs in mainland montane forests scattered across sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar, and some surrounding islands. Traditionally, decoctions of the stem-bark are taken orally for the treatment of a wide variety of conditions, such as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), stomach ache, chest pain, malaria, heart conditions, and gonorrhoea, as well as urinary and kidney diseases. The timber is used to make axe handles and for other household needs. The dense wood is also sawn for timber.
Aim: The fragmented information available on the ethnobotany, phytochemistry, and biological activities of the medicinally important P. africana was collated, organised, and analysed in this review, to highlight knowledge voids that can be addressed through future research.
Materials and methods: A bibliometric analysis of research output on P. africana was conducted on literature retrieved, using the Scopus® database. The trend in the publications over time was assessed and a network analysis of collaborations between countries and authors was carried out. Furthermore, a detailed review of the literature over the period 1971 to 2021, acquired through Scopus, ScienceDirect, SciFinder, Pubmed, Scirp, DOAJ and Google Scholar, was conducted. All relevant abstracts, full-text articles and various book chapters on the botanical and ethnopharmacological aspects of P. africana, written in English and German, were consulted.
Results: A total of 455 documents published from 1971 to 2021, were retrieved using the Scopus search. Analysis of the data showed that the majority of these documents were original research articles, followed by reviews and lastly a miscellaneous group comprising conference papers, book chapters, short surveys, editorials and letters. Data were analysed for annual output and areas of intense research focus, and countries with high research output, productive institutions and authors, and collaborative networks were identified. Prunus africana is reported to exhibit anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antimicrobial, anti-oxidant, antiviral, antimutagenic, anti-asthmatic, anti-androgenic, antiproliferative and apoptotic activities amongst others. Phytosterols and other secondary metabolites such as phenols, triterpenes, fatty acids, and linear alcohols have been the focus of phytochemical investigations. The biological activity has largely been ascribed to the phytosterols (mainly 3-β-sitosterol, 3-β-sitostenone, and 3-β-sitosterol-glucoside), which inhibit the production of prostaglandins in the prostate, thereby suppressing the inflammatory symptoms associated with BPH and chronic prostatitis.
Conclusions: Many of the ethnobotanical assertions for the biological activity of P. africana have been confirmed through in vitro and in vivo studies. However, a disparity exists between the biological activity of the whole extract and that of single compounds isolated from the extract, which were reported to be less effective. This finding suggests that a different approach to biological activity studies should be encouraged that takes all secondary metabolites present into consideration. A robust technique, such as multivariate biochemometric data analysis, which allows for a holistic intervention to study the biological activity of a species is suggested. Furthermore, there is a need to develop rapid and efficient quality control methods for both raw materials and products to replace the time-consuming and laborious methods currently in use.
Keywords: African cherry; Biological activities; Clinical trials; Ethnopharmacology; Phytochemistry; Phytosterols; Prunus africana.
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