A matter of some sensitivity

Phytochemistry. 1995 Apr;38(6):1319-43. doi: 10.1016/0031-9422(94)00780-w.


The development of sensitive chromatographic and spectroscopic techniques for the isolation and structure determination of natural products has greatly facilitated phytochemical investigations. Chemical investigations of herbarium material have resulted in the isolation of indole, quinoline and isoquinoline alkaloids from a wide number of plants. Examples of novel natural products from higher plants are given and include alkaloids, terpenoids, phenolics and quinones. Some plants investigated have not yielded the types of constituents which would have been predicted from them. Plant tissue cultures provide alternative sources of biologically active compounds and examples investigated include Cinchona, Ailanthus, Brucea and Artemisia for antiprotozoal compounds and Datura for tropane alkaloids. Biological tests are useful for bioassay-guided fractionation of plant extracts and examples of the isolation of a series of natural products with antiprotozoal and cytotoxic activities are given. Chemical and biological investigations into the traditional medicine Dragon's blood (Croton lechleri) from S. America and a Chinese prescription for the treatment of atopic eczema are described. The use of radio-ligand binding assays for the detection of a wide range of biological activities is discussed. Sensitivity of chemical and biological techniques has greatly improved prospects for finding new drug entities from plants and for investigating traditional medicines. Basic phytochemical investigations should continue to be encouraged especially in view of the rapid loss of plant species.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alkaloids / chemistry*
  • Alkaloids / isolation & purification*
  • Animals
  • Antiprotozoal Agents / chemistry
  • Antiprotozoal Agents / isolation & purification
  • Biological Assay
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chromatography / methods
  • Culture Techniques / methods
  • Eczema / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Molecular Structure
  • Plant Cells*
  • Plant Extracts / isolation & purification
  • Plant Extracts / therapeutic use
  • Plants / chemistry*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Spectrum Analysis / methods


  • Alkaloids
  • Antiprotozoal Agents
  • Plant Extracts