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37/661 (2), Fort P.O. Trivandrum-695 023 Kerala, India Opportunity, Challenge and Scope of Natural Products in Medicinal Chemistry, 2011: 313-334 diversity and their biological activities Natural Products Chemistry Division, North-East Institute of Science and Technology (CSIR)
Abstract.
Sesquiterpenes lactones (SLs) have been isolated from
numerous genera of the family Asteraceae (compositae) and can
also be found in other angiosperm families. They are described as
the active constituents of a variety of medicinal plants used in
traditional medicine for the treatment of inflammatory diseases.
They are known to possess wide variety of biological and
pharmacological activities such as antimicrobial, cytotoxic, anti-
inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal activities, effects
on the central nervous and cardiovascular systems as well as
allergenic potency. Their wide structural diversity and potential
biological activities have made further interest among the chemists.
The present chapter will be highlighted on the recent developments
on the SLs and their diverse biological activities.

1. Introduction
Sesquiterpene lactones (SLs) constitute a large and diverse group of
biologically active plant chemicals that have been identified in several plant
families such as Acanthaceae, Anacardiaceae, Apiaceae, Euphorbiaceae,
Lauraceae, Magnoliaceae, Menispermaceae, Rutaceae, Winteraceae and
Hepatideae etc [1]. However, the greatest numbers are found in the Compositae
Correspondence/Reprint request: Dr. Devdutt Chaturvedi, Natural Products Chemistry Division, North-East
Institute of Science and Technology (CSIR), Jorhat-785006, Assam, India
E-mail: ddchaturvedi@rrljorhat.res.in
(Asteraceae) family with over 3000 reported different structures [2]. Sesquiterpene lactones are a class of naturally occurring plant terpenoids that represent a diverse and unique class of natural products and are important constituent of essential oils, which are formed from head-to-tail condensation of three isoprene units and subsequent cyclization and oxidative transformation to produce a cis or trans-fused lactone. These secondary compounds are primarily classified on the basis of their carbocyclic skeletons into pseudoguainolides, guaianalides, germanocranolides, eudesmanolides, heliangolides and hyptocretenolides etc (Figure 1). The suffix "olide" refers to the lactone function and is based on costunolide, a germanacranoride which is related to the ten-membered carbocyclic sesquiterpene, germacrone. However, SLs exhibit variety of other skeletal arrangements. An individual plant species generally produces one skeletal type of SLs concentrated primarily in the leaves and flower heads. The percentage of SLs per dry weight may vary from 0.01% to 8%. Losses of livestock intoxicated by plants containing SLs are well known. In fact, they have been shown to exhibit a wide range of biological activities. Figure 1. Basic skeletons of sesquiterpenes lactones.
Biologically active sesquiterpene lactones An important usual feature of the SLs is the presence of a γ-lactone ring (closed towards either C-6 or C-8) containing in many cases, an α-methylene group. Among other modifications, the incorporation of hydroxyls or esterified hydroxyls and epoxide ring are common. A few SLs occur in glycoside form and some contain halogen or sulfur atoms [3]. Majority of SLs have shown cytotoxic activity (KB and P388 leukemia in vitro) and activity against in vivo P388 leukemia. Structure activity relationship studies showed that various cytotoxic SLs react with thiols, such as cystiene residues in the protien, by rapid Michael type of addition. These reactions are mediated chemically by α,β-unsaturated carbonyl system present in the SLs. These studies support the view that SLs inhibit tumor growth by selective alkylation of growth regulatory biological macromolecules such as key enzymes, which controls cell division, thereby inhibiting a variety of cellular functions, which directs the cell into apoptosis. Differences in activity between individual SLs may be explained by different number of alkylating structural elements. However, other factors, such as lipophilicity, molecular geometry, and chemical environment or the target sulfhydryl may also influence the activity of sesquitepenes lactones. Costunolide (1)
Tagitinin A (2)
Tagitinin C (3)
Cynaropicrin (4)
Eupatoriopicrin (5)
Parthenin (6)
Helenalin (7)
Artemisinin (8)
Vernodalin (9)
Figure 2. Structurally diverse sesquiterpenes lactones (SLs 1-9).
Some of structurally diverse sesquiterpenes lactones have been shown in Figure 2 and 3. Distribution of different structural classes of sesquiterpene
lactones have been depicted in Table 1.
2. Biological activity of sesquiterpene lactones

[A] Anticancer activity
In recent years, many researchers over the world have reported that sesquiterpenes lactones possess potential anticancer activity. Some of the important compounds of this class have been discussed below: Parthenolide (10)
Dehydrocostus lactone (11)
Vernolide (12)
Hanphyllin (13)
Alantolactone (14)
Epoxy(4,5α) - 4,5-dihydrosantonin (15)
4,(5) α− Epoxy-4,5-dihydrosantonin (16)
Neurolenin B (17)
Tagitinin C (3)
Vernodal (18)
Ridentin (21)
11,13-dihydrovernodalin (19)
Rupicolin A 8-Acetate (20)
Figure 3. Structurally diverse sesquiterpenes lactones (10-21).
Biologically active sesquiterpene lactones Table 1. Distribution of different structural classes of sesquiterpene lactones in the
family-Compositae.
No. of genera with
Type of lactones
sesquiterpene
(No. of genera)
lactones
Guaianolides Ambrosanolides Seco-Ambrosanolides Guaianolides Xanthanolides Ambrosanolides Helenanolides Seco-Eudesmanolides Seco-Ambrosanolides Germacranolides Elemanolides Guaianolides Eudesmanolides Xanthanolides Ambrosanolides Helenanolides Seco-Eudesmanolides Seco-Ambrosanolides Seco-Helenanolides Eremophilanolides Helenanolides Bakkenolides Germacranolides Elemanolides Guaianolides Helenanolides Cadinanolides Chrymoranolides Table 1. Continued
Eudesmanolides Germanocranolides Eudesmanolides I. Costunolide

Costunolide
(1, Figure 2) is an active component from the crude extract of
Saussurea lappa roots, a traditional Chinese medicinal herb [3]. The anticancer property of costunolide was first reported in a rat intestinal carcinogenesis model induced by azoxymethane and supported by a subsequent study using a DMBA induced hamster buccal pouch carcinogenesis model [4]. Following these two in vivo experiments, considerable efforts have been devoted to understad the mechanism responsible for the anti-cancer activity of costunolide. First, costunolide is a potent apoptotic inducer in cancer cells, via multiple pathways. It has been reported that costunolide readily depletes intracellular GSH and disrupts the cellular redox balance [5]. It triggers an intracellular reactive oxygen species (ROS) burst which leads to mitochondrial dysfunction: loss of mitochondrial membrane potential, onset of mitochondrial membrane transition, and release of mitochondrial pro-apoptotic proteins [6]. The apoptosis-inducing activity of costunolide was found to be closely associated with Bcl-2, based on observations that costunolide treatment
decreased the anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 protein expression [7], while over expression
of Bcl-2 protein attenuated costunolide-induced apoptosis [12]. Second,
costunolide suppresses NF-kB activation via prevention of IkB phosphorylation
[8], a process also responsible for the strong anti-inflammatory activity of
costunolide [9]. Third, costunolide is capable of promoting leukemia cell
differentiation [10], inhibiting endothelial cells angiogenesis [11], and
disrupting nuclear microtubule architecture in cancer cells [12].
II. Parthenolide

Parthenolide
(10, Figure 3), is the major SL responsible for bioactivity of
feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium), a traditional herb plant which has been used for the treatment of fever, migraine and arthritis for centuries [13]. One well-explored bioactivity of parthenolide is its potent anti-inflammatory Biologically active sesquiterpene lactones effect, which is mainly achieved through its strong inhibitory effect on
NF-kB activation. It has been well established that parthenolide acts on
multiple steps along the NF-kB signaling pathway [14]. By suppressing
NF-kB parthenolide inhibits a group of NF-kB regulated pro-inflammatory
cytokines, such as interleukins and prostaglandins [15]. The anticancer
activity of parthenolide has been pursued in a number of laboratories. A large
number of studies have been undertaken to investigate the mechanism of
action of parthenolide at molecular levels in the different phases of
carcinogenesis. The data were obtained using different tumor cell systems.
Parthenolide induced apoptosis in pre-B acute lymphoblastic leukemia lines,
including cells carrying chromosomal translocations [16]. Parthenolide
induced rapid apoptotic cell death distinguished by loss of nuclear DNA,
externalization of cell membrane phosphatidyl-serine, and depolarization of
mitochondrial membranes at concentrations ranging from 5 to 100 μM. Steele
et al. investigated the in vitro actions of parthenolide on cells isolated from
patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Brief exposure to the
sesquiterpene lactone (one to three hours) was sufficient to induce caspase
activation and commitment to cell death. The mechanism of cell killing was
via parthenolide induced generation of ROS, resulting in turn in a pro-
apoptotic Bax conformational change, release of mitochondrial cytochrome C
and caspase activation. Other studies also demonstrated that parthenolide-
mediated apoptosis correlated well with ROS generation. Parthenolide
strongly induced apoptosis in four multiple myeloma cell lines, although
there are considerable differences in susceptibility to the sesquiterpene
lactone. KMM-1 and MM1S sensitive to parthenolide possess less catalase
activity than the less sensitive KMS-5 and NCI-H929 cells. These findings
indicate that parthenolide-induced apoptosis in multiple myeloma cells
depend on increased ROS and that intracellular catalase activity is a crucial
determinant of their sensitivity to parthenolide. Chen et al. also reported the
anti-proliferative and apoptosis-inducing effects of parthenolide on
human multiple myeloma cells, mediated by an enhancement of caspase-3
activity [17].

III. Helenalin

Helenalin
(7, Figure 2) is another SL, from Arnica species, which has
been reported to possess cytotoxicity and anti-cancer activity [18]. Earlier studies demonstrated its potent activity to inhibit nucleic acid and protein synthesis [19]. Similiar to other anticancer SLs, mechanism of action mainly involve: (i) thiol depletion, (ii) inhibition of NF-kB, and (iii) induction of apoptosis [20]. These prominent bioactivities make helenalin another potential anti-cancer agent. IV. Artemisinin and its derivatives

Given the high accumulation of iron in cancer cells, researchers Henry Lai and Narendra Singh became interested in possible artemisinin (8, Figure 2)
activity against malignant cells and have used artemisinin against numerous
cancer cells in vitro [21]. There are a number of properties shared by cancer
cells that favor the selective toxicity of artemisinin against cancer cell lines
and against cancer in vivo. In addition to their high rates of iron flux via
transferrin receptors when compared to normal cells, cancer cells are also
particularly sensitive to oxygen radicals. Artemisinin becomes cytotoxic in
the presence of ferrous ion. Since iron influx is naturally high in cancer cells,
artemisinin and its analogs can selectively kill cancer cells in vivo [22].
Furthermore, it is possible to increase or enhance iron flux in cancer cells by
supplying conditions that lead to increased intracellular iron concentrations.
However, intact in vivo systems do not need holotransferrin, since the body
provides all the necessary iron transport proteins. In recent years, in order to
search for potential anticancer agents many researchers have directed their
efforts in synthesizing various kinds of artemisinin dimers, trimers, tetramers
wherein several of which have shown potential anticancer activity and are in
the various phases of clinical trials [23].

[B] Anti-inflammatory activity

Sesquiterpenes lactones have displayed potential anti-inflammatory activity through NF-kB pathway. Since NF-kB plays a central role in most
disease processes, and since it can regulate the expression of many key genes
involved in inflammatory as well as in a variety of human cancers [24],
NF-kB represents a relevant and promising target for the development of new
chemopreventive and chemotherapeutic agents. Some of the important SLs
have displayed anti-inflammatory activity are as follows:

I. Costunolide

Costunolide
(1, Fig. 2) is a closely related sesquiterpene lactone analogue
of parthenolide present in several plants such as Magnolia grandiflora, Tanacetum parthenium. Koo et al. showed that costunolide also dose-dependently inhibited LPS-induced NF-kB activation. In this assay system, costunolide even exhibited more potent inhibitory activity than parthenolide. Detailed mechanism studies revealed that, similar to parthenolide, costunolide also significantly inhibited the degradation of IkB-α and IkB-β. In addition, costunolide also inhibited the phosphorylation of IkB-α. These Biologically active sesquiterpene lactones accumulative results indicate that costunolide inhibits NF-kB activation by
preventing the phosphorylation of IkB, and therefore, sequestering the
complex in an inactive form [8].
II. Parthenolide

Parthenolide
(10, Figure 3) is a sesquiterpene lactone present in several
medicinal plants that have been used in folk medicine for their anti-
inflammatory and analgesic properties. Several in vitro studies have shown
that a great part of the anti-inflammatory action of this compound appears
to be related to its ability to inhibit the NF-kB pathway. In vitro studies
have proven that the sesquiterpene lactone parthenolide does not interfere
with the generation of oxygen radicals [25], whereas it specifically inhibits
activation of the NF-kB pathway by targeting IKK [26] and/or preventing
the degradation of IkB-α and IkB-β [25]. Furthermore, parthenolide has
recently been reported to exert beneficial effects during endotoxic shock in
rats through inhibition of NF-kB DNA binding in the lung [27]. These
effects of parthenolide may also accounts for its inhibition of pro-
inflammatory mediator genes, such as the gene for the inducible nitric
oxide synthase after endotoxin stimulation in rat smooth muscle cells [28]
and the gene for IL-8 in immune-stimulated human respiratory epithelial
cells [29]. In addition, parthenolide has also been demonstrated to protect
against myocardial ischemia and reperfusion injury in the rat by selective
inhibition of IKK activation and IkBα degradation [30].

III. Helenalin

Since different types of sesquiterpene lactones showed inhibition of NF-kB activation at similar concentrations, this effect seems to be
characteristic for many of the sesquiterpene lactones with an exomethylene
group like parthenolide and costunolide. Exomethylene groups of α,β-
unsaturated carbonyl compounds can react by Michael type addition to
sulfhydryl groups of cysteine residues in the DNA binding domain of the NF-kB
subunit [31]. Recently, Lyu et al. provided evidence that a sesquiterpene
lactone, helenalin (7, Fig. 2), containing two functional groups, namely α,β-
unsaturated carbonyl group and α-methylene-δ-lactone ring, exerts its effect
by direct alkylation of the p65 subunit of NF-kB without inhibition of IkB
degradation [32]. In vitro studies also demonstrated that helenalin selectively
modifies the p-65 subunit of NF-kB at the nuclear level, therefore inhibiting
its DNA binding [33]. However, costunolide differs from helenalin in a
number of functional groups and inhibits degradation of IkB by inhibiting
phosphorylation of IkB. Therefore, another functional group other than the
exomethylene group and the molecular geometry of sesquiterpene lactone
compounds appear to be important factors to determine the mode of NF-kB
inhibition. However, the epoxide group in parthenolide is not likely important
because parthenolide is at least less effective to inhibit both NF-kB activation
and NO production.
[C] Anti-malarial activity

I. Artemisinin and its derivatives

In 1972, a group of Chinese researchers isolated a new anti-malarial drug (+)- artemisinin (8, Figure 4), a sesquiterpene lactone of the amorphene
sub-group of cadinene from the hexane extract of a traditional Chinese
medicinal plant Artemesia annua (Asteraceae) - a plant which has been used
for the treatment of fever and malaria since ancient times [23]. Artemisinin is
a sesquiterpene lactone containing an endoperoxide linkage in it. This highly
oxygenated sesquiterpene lactone peroxide, unlike most other anti-malarials,
lacks nitrogen containing heterocyclic ring systems and was found to be
superior plasmocidal and blood schizontocidal agent to conventional anti-
malarial drugs, such as chloroquine, quinine etc against malaria strains,
without obvious adverse effects in patients.
Artemisinin is active at nanomolar concentrations in vitro both against chloroquine sensitive and resistant P. falciparum strains. However, the practical values of artemisinin, nevertheless, are impaired (i) poor solubility either in oil or water; (ii) high rate of parasite recrudescence after treatment; (iii) short-plasma half life (3-5h) and poor oral activity. However, a low level of resistance has 22 R = H (Dihydroartemisinin)
23 R = Me (Artemether)
24 R = Et (Arteether)
25 R = COCH
26 R = COCH2C6H4COONa (Sodium artelinate)
8 (Artemisinin)
Figure 4. Structure of artemisinin and its analogs.
Biologically active sesquiterpene lactones recently been observed using artemisinin, which disappeared as soon as the
drug-selection pressure has been withdrawn. However, artemisinin with an
endoperoxide linkage is a sensitive molecule for large scale derivatization.
Fortunately, it was found that the carbonyl group of artemisinin 8, can be easily
reduced to dihydroartemisinin 22 in high yields using sodium borohydride, which
has in turn led to the preparation of a series of semi-synthetic first-generation
analogues included oil soluble artemether 23, arteether 24, water soluble sodium
artesunate 25, and sodium artelinate 26.

These three analogs become very potent anti-malarial drugs effective against chloroquine-resistant strains of P. falciparum. Artemether 23 has been included
in the WHO lists of Essential Drugs for the treatment of severe MDR malaria. In
this family, the Walter Reed Institute of research has patented a stable, water-
soluble derivative called artelinic acid 26 which is now being tested in animals.
A key advantage of these endoperoxides containing anti-malarial agents, which
have been used for nearly two decades, is the absence of drug resistance. It has
been realized through the structure-activity relationship (SAR) of artemisinins
that mainly endoperoxide affects the antimalarial activity. In order to increase
antimalarial potency of these molecules, researchers around the world become
interested to synthesize artemisinin dimers, trimers and tetramers in recent years.
Many of them have shown promising antimalarial activity than artemisinin and
their first generation analogs.
II. Miscellaneous antimalarials

Antimalarial activity of sesquiterpenes lactones from Neurolena lobata has been documented (Figure 5) [34]. Germacranolide sesquiterpenes lactones like
neurolenin B (17, IC50 = 0.62 μM) more potent than furanoheliangolides lobatin
B (IC50 = 16.51 μM). Among the germacranolides, the shift of the double bond
from the 2,3-position (neurolenin B) into the 3,4-position (lobatin A) led to
dramatic decrease in the activity suggesting that one of the structural
requirements is the presence of α/β-unsaturated keto function. Additionally, a
free hydroxyl group at C-8 increased the antiplasmodial activity, while a free
hydroxyl group at C-9 decreased the activity.
Goffin
et al. investigated the antiplasmodial properties of Tithonia diversifolia against three strains of P. falciparum, and sesquiterpene lactone (Fig.
5/Fig 3) Tagitinin C (3) was found to be active against FCA strain (IC50 = 0.33
μg/mL) [35]. Jenett-Siems et al. reported four sesquiterpenes, vernodalol (18),
11β,13-dihydrovernodalin 11β,13-dihydrovernolide (19) and 11β,13,17,18-
tetrahydrovernolide from Vernonia colorata. Among these, vernodalol (18) and
11β,13-dihydrovernodalin (19) exhibited the strongest antiplasmodial activity
(IC50 = 4.8 and 1.1 μg/mL) respectively). Among the sesquiterpene lactones
obtained from Artemisia afra, 1-desoxy-1α-peroxy-rupicolin A-8-O-acetate
Neurolenin B (17)
Tagitinin C (3)
Vernodalol (18)
Helenalin (7)
11,13-dihydrovernodalin (19)
Rupicolin A 8-Acetate (20)
Ridentin (21)
Hanphyllin (13)
Figure 5. Structures of some of anti-malarials sesquiterpene lactones.

(20), 1β,4β-dihydroxy-bishopsolicepolide and rupicolin A-8-O-acetate (20)
possessed in-vitro antiplasmodial activity (IC50 = 10.8-17.5 μg/mL) [36].
Passreiter et al. have isolated sesquiterpene lactones of the pseudoguaianolide
type from Arnica Montana, helenalin (7), dihydrohelenalin and their acetates
showing activities against P. falciparum in vitro (IC50 = 0.23 to 7.41 μM) [37].
Inhibitory effect upon the growth of P. falciparum has been reported
for sesquiterpene lactones (27) and (28) isolated from Camchaya calcarea
(IC50 = 1.2 and 0.3 μg/mL) respectively [38].

[D] Antiviral activity

In spite of an effective and safe vaccine therapy against hepatitis B virus (HBV), viral infection by HBV caused a global health problem in the world,
especially the third world. Moreover, because direct antiviral therapy against
HBV infection is not yet perfectly developed, it is important to discover the
lead compounds for novel anti-HBV agents from the potential library.
Recently, there was a report about anti-HBV activity of artemisinin (8)
and artesunate (25) based on the screening by using HBV-transferred
HepG2 2.2.15 cell [39], which is derived from hepatoblastoma HepG2 cell
Biologically active sesquiterpene lactones [40]. This screening method is a useful in vitro model for evaluation of novel
anti-HBV drugs, as well as to study several steps of the HBV biology [41].
Artemisinin (8), artesunate (25), and a variety of purified compounds from
traditional Chinese medicine remedy were investigated by measuring the
release of surface protein (HBsAg) and HBV-DNA after drug exposure
(0.01-100 μM) for 21 days [39]. As a result, artesunate (25) strongly inhibited
the HAsAg secretion with an IC50 of 2.3 μM and IC90 of 16 μM, respectively,
whereas artemisinin (8) had a mild inhibition activity. To evaluate an
enhancement in viron production, the amount of the HBV-DNA release to the
HepG2 2.2.15 culture medium during different treatments was measured, and
it was significantly reduced. In addition, it was discovered that, for artesunate
(25), toxicity in host cell was shown in drug concentration of 20 μM and
therapeutical index (TI) calculated from IC50 of HBV-DNA release was 40.
When comparing to TI value (500) of lamivudine as positive control, the
value of artesunate (25) is quite low, but reasonable value for further
investigation. Finally, artesunate (25) was tried in combination treatment with
lamivudine. When both compounds were administered together in
concentration of 20 nM each, no toxicity was observed, but a synergic
inhibitory effect in HBsAg release was found. It means that it is possible to
be potential antiviral agent against infection of lamivudine-resistance
HBV strains, frequent problem in clinical treatment [42]. This result was
quite similar to potency previously reported for human cytomegaloviruses
[39].
Anti-viral activity of various sesquiterpene lactones was reported by Hsieh and their coworkers against hepatitis C virus (Fig. 6) [43]. They have
tested a series of 10 compounds such as parthenolide (10, EC50 = 2.21 μM),
costunolide (1, EC50 = 2.69 μM), dehydrocostus lactone (11, EC50 = 3.08
μM), Helenalin (7, EC50 = 1.25 μM), alantolactone (14, EC50 = 2.03 μM),
Epoxy-dihydrosantonin (15, EC50 = >10 μM), artemisinin, and two other
conjugated lactones. Wherein they found the best anti-HCV activity was
shown by helenalin. They have further derivatized a series of parthenolide
analogs 29 wherein they found that best activity was realized while putting a
piperidine moiety (R = piperidine, EC50 = 1.64 μM).
[E] Antibacterial activity

There has been an overwhelming amount of evidence indicating that certain SLs are effective in exerting antibacterial activity. Rabe et al. showed
that Vernonia colorata, a member of the Compositae found in west,
central and South Africa possess SLs with antibacterial activity primarily
against Gram-positive species and lower activity towards Gram-negative
species [44]. The SLs vernodalin (30), vernolide (12) (Fig. 7) and 11β,13-
dihydroovernolide were isolated and screened against Staphylococcu aureus
parthenolide (10)
Costunolide (1)
Dehydrocostus lactone (11)
Helenalin (7)
Alantolactone (14)
Epoxy(4,5α)- 4,5-dihydrosantonin (15) 4,(5 α
) − Epoxy-4,5-dihydrosantonin (16)
R = N(CH3)2, N(Et)2, Pyrrolidine, Piperidine, Morpholine Figure 6. Antiviral sesquiterpene lactones.
and Bacillus subtilis (Gram-positive species) and Escherichia coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae (Gram-negative species). 11β,13-Dihydroovernolide is a novel SLs in that it has never been isolated from a Vernonia species before. All three of the compounds screened had very low inhibitory action against the Gram-negative bacteria. However, S. aureus and B. subtilis showed the most sensitivity towards all of the SLs screened. It needs to be noted, however, that although 11β,13-dihydrovernolide is a novel SL, it had the lowest activity against the Gram-positive species compared to vernolide and vernodalin which had MIC values of 0.1-0.5 mg/mL. Taylor and Towers isolated, characterised and screened three SLs belonging to the pseudoguaianolides class of SLs from Centipeda minima, a
member of the Compositae [45]. This plant is used throughout Southeast Asia
to treat colds, coughs, and sinus infections. Three SLs, 6-O-methylacrylylplenolin
(31), 6-O-angeloylplenolin (32), and 6-O-isobutyroylplenolin (33) (Figure 8)
were isolated, with 6-O-methylacrylylplenolin being novel, and were then
screened for antibacterial activity against B. subtilis and S. aureus. All three of the
SLs screened had significant activity against the bacteria with 6-O-
isobutyroylplenolin being the most bioactive. Both 6-O-isobutyroylplenolin and
6-O-methylacrylylplenolin exhibited MIC value of 150 μg/mL against B. subtilis.
6-O-Angeloylplenolin was less active with a MIC of 300 μg/mL. All three
Biologically active sesquiterpene lactones Vernodalin (30)
Vernolide (12)
Figure 7. Antibacterial sesquiterpenes lactones (30, 12).
SLs showed activity against both methicillin-resistant and methicillin-sensitive strains of S. aureus. Both 6-O-isobutyroylplenolin and 6-O-methylacrylylplenolin had a MIC of 300 μg/mL against methicillin-resistant S. aureus, while 6-O-angeloylplenolin was less active with a MIC of 600 μg/mL against this strain. With respect to the methicillin-sensitive strain of S. aureus, 6-O-methylacrylylplenolin and 6-O-angeloylplenolin had MIC values of 75 μg/mL while 6-O-isobutyroylplenolin had a MIC of 38 μg/mL indicating that this SL is more bioactive against methicillin-sensitive S. aureus than the other SLs screened. Further amplifying the possibility for the use of SLs found in plant oils, Wang and coworkers recently discovered four new SLs in a plant species known
as Ligulariopsis shichuana, which is a new genus of the Compositae [46]. The
four SLs isolated and characterised were: (a) 3β-acetoxy-9β-angeloyloxy-1β,
10β-epoxy-8α-hydroxyeremophil-7(11)-en-8β-(12)-olide (34); (b) 3β-senecioyl-
oxy-1β,10β-epoxy-8α-hydroxyeremophil-7(11)-en-8β-(12)-olide (35); (c) 6β-
angeloyloxy-8α-hydroxyeremophil-1(10),7(11)-dien-8β-(12)-olide (36); and (d)
1-oxo-6β-senecioyloxy-8α-hydroxyeremophil-7(11),9(10)-dien-β-(12)-olide (37)

6-O-Methylacrylylphenolin (31) 6-O-Angeloyphenolin (32)
6-O-Isobutyroylphenolin (33)
Figure 8. Antibacterial sesquiterpene lactones (31-33).
Figure 9. Antibacterial sesquiterpenes lactones (34-37).

(Fig. 9). Only compounds 34 and 35 were screened for their antibacterial activity.
Compound 34 showed moderate activity towards both the Gram-positive and
Gram-negative species B. subtilis and E. coli, respectively. Compound 35, while
exhibiting moderate activity towards E. coli, showed much stronger activity
against B. subtilis at MIC concentrations up to 100 μg/mL.
Finally, there have been reports that other SLs, such as helenalin 7, showed
inhibitory action against Mycobacterium tuberculosis as well as activity against
Corynebacterium diptheriae [47]. Helenalin 7, a mixture of alantolactone 14 and
isoalantolactone 38, is derived from the plant species Inula helenium (Fig. 10).
Helenalin 7 has primarily been utilised as an antiseptic for the urinary tract [47].
However, helenalin 7 was also shown to inhibit both Gram-positive and Gram-
negative bacterial growth, with the former showing more sensitivity [48]. As one
can see, there is certain hope for those essential oils containing SLs in
therapeutics. The preclinical data implicates that SLs are effective in reducing
bacterial growth which gives strength to the idea that SLs could be potentially
used in the medical treatment of both Grampositive and Gram-negative bacterial
infections.
Alantolactone (14)
Isoalantolactone (38)
Figure 10. Antibacterial sesquiterpene lactones (14, 38).
Biologically active sesquiterpene lactones [F] Antifungal activity

There certainly exists a vast amount of empirical data supporting that certain SLs found in essential oils have the potential to act as antibacterial agents. It also needs to be shown that certain SLs also possess antifungal activities. The following section will focus on studies implicating the SLs for probable use as antifungal agents. Calera et al. isolated, characterised, and screened two bioactive SLs from the roots of yellow flowered perennial herb Ratibida mexicana. This plant is
found primarily along the Sierra Madre Occidental in the northwestern part of
Mexico [49]. Indian tribes find that the roots are useful in alleviating
headaches, colds and rheumatism. The two SLs isolated from this plant are
isoallolantolactone (38) and elema-1,3,11-trien-8,12-olide (39) (Fig. 11).
The in vitro antifungal screen revealed that both SLs inhibited the radial
growth of Helminthosporium with the MIC being 650 μg/mL for both SLs.
Pythium growth was far more sensitive to isoallolantolactone (38) with a
MIC of 125 μg/mL. Fusarium was also screened for sensitivity against
isoallolantolactone (38) and elema-1,3,11-trien-8,12-olide, with again
isoallolantolactone (39) showing the most bioactivity by inhibiting 45% of
radial growth at 200 μg/mL for this particular fungus.
Isoalantolactone (38)
Elema-1, 3,11-trien-8,12-olide(39)
Figure 11. Antifungal activity of sesquiterpene lactones (38, 39).
Figure 12. Antifungal activity of sesquiterpene lactones (40-41).
Two new eudesmanolides were isolated from the aerial parts of Centaurea thessala spp. drakiensis and C. attica spp. attica, plants which are primarily used
in folk medicine in the Mediterranean region [50]. The two novel eudesmanolides
isolated were 8α-hydroxy-4-epi-sonchucarpolide (40) and the 8α-(4-acetoxy-3-
hydroxy-2-methylenebutanoyloxy) derivative (41) of the 8α-hydroxy-4-epi-
sonchucarpolide, also known as 40-acetoxymalacitanolide (Fig. 12).
A variety of fungal species showed sensitivity towards 8α-hydroxy-4- epi-sonchucarpolide (40) and 40-acetoxymalacitanolide (41) [50]. 8α-
Hydroxy-4-epi-sonchucarpolide
40, when compared to 40-
acetoxymalacitanolide 41, showed higher activity against all the fungal
species screened, with the exception of one species. The MIC values for
8α-hydroxy-4-epi-sonchucarpolide 40 were considerably lower indicating
that sensitivity is much higher for this compound. The exception was for
Cladosporium cladosporioides; this species showed higher sensitivity
towards 40-acetoxymalacitanolide, with a MIC value of 0.06 μg/mL while
the MIC value for 8α-hydroxy-4-epi-sonchucarpolide was 0.5 μg/mL.
In addition, both SLs had indentical MICs against Penicillium funiculosum,
showing no disparity between these two SLs in their inhibitory action against
this particular species. The authors of this paper speculated that the
differences in activity between these two SLs could be attributed to the
different skeletal types and functional groups present on the compounds.
Finally, it needs to be mentioned that both SLs, possessed greater antifungal
activity that miconazole, a commercial fungicide used as the positive control.

3. Structural-activity relationships (sar) of sesquiterpene
lactones


It is generally believed that the bioactivity of SLs is mediated by alkylation of nucleophiles through their α, β- or α, β, γ-unsaturated carbonyl structures, such as α-methylene-γ-lactones or α,β-unsaturated cyclopentenones. These structure elements react with nucleophiles, especially the cysteine sulfhydryl groups by Michael-type addition. Therefore, it is widely accepted that thiol groups such as cysteine residues in proteins, as well as the free intracellular GSH, serve as the major targets of SLs. In essence, the interaction between SLs and protein thiol groups or GSH leads to reduction of enzyme activity or causes the disruption of GSH metabolism and vitally important intracellular cell redox balance. The relationship between chemical structure and bioactivity of SLs has been studied in several systems, especially with regards to cytotoxicity, anti-inflammatory and antitumor activity. It is believed that the exo-methylene Biologically active sesquiterpene lactones group on the lactone is essential for cytotoxicity because structural modifications such as saturation or addition to the methylene group resulted in the loss of cytotoxicity and tumor inhibition. However, it has also been shown that the factor responsible for the cytotoxicity of SLs might be the presence of the O=C-C=CH2 system, regardless of lactone or cyclopentenone. It was latter demonstrated that the presence of additional alkylating groups greatly enhanced the cytotoxicity of SLs. Furthermore, it was established that the α-methylene-γ-lactones and α,β-unsaturated cyclopentenone ring (or α-epoxycyclopentenone) present in SLs essential for their in vivo anti-tumor activity. It has been confirmed through various published reports that the various kinds of biological activities displayed by SLs is due to presence of either α-methylene-γ-lactones and α,β-unsaturated cyclopentenone ring. In summary, the differences in activity among individual SLs may be explained by differences in the number of alkylating elements, lipophilicity, molecular geometry, and the chemical environment of the target sulfhydryl group. Figure 13. General structure of sesquiterpene lactones.

4. Conclusions

Sesquiterpene lactones are an important group of natural products obtained from many species of medicinal plants. Their structural diversity and diverse potential biological activities such as anticancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, anti-malarial, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal etc. have made further interest among the chemists to the drug discovery research. Although, the exact mechanism of action of SLs are not well known but it has been documented through the various published reports that the biological activity displayed by majority of sesquiterpene lactones is due to the presence of α-methylene-γ-lactones and α,β-unsaturated cyclopentenone ring. The present chapter deals an overview on the various kinds of biologically activity of structurally diverse sesquiterpene lactones which may be useful for the chemists/pharmacologists working in the area of
drug discovery of the relevant subject.
Acknowledgements

Author is thankful to the Director, North-East Institute of Science and Technology (CSIR), Jorhat, Assam, for providing the necessary facilities
during the preparation of this book chapter.
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