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Pharmacology and phytochemistry of South African traditional medicinal plants used as antimicrobials.

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Among all the major infectious human diseases, gastro-intestinal infections caused by microbial pathogens are a major cause of morbidity and infant death in developing countries, largely due to inadequate sewage disposal and contaminated water. Traditional health practitioners in South Africa play a crucial role in providing health care to the majority of the population. Many plants are locally used by South African traditional healers to treat microbial infections related to gastro-intestinal tracts. Ethnopharmacological and ethnobotanical studies using traditional knowledge as a selection strategy has given priority to certain plants for isolation and identification of plant novel bioactive compounds. Pharmacological and phytochemical studies of the investigated twelve medicinal plant species (from 10 families) extensively used as antimicrobials against gastro-intestinal infections was necessary to validate the use of the plants. Furthermore, to provide sufficient preliminary information for the isolation and identification of active compounds that are present in the investigated plants. Plant parts were sequentially extracted using petroleum ether (PE), dichloromethane (DCM) and 70% ethanol (EtOH). Cold water and boiled (decoction) extracts of the plant materials were prepared non- sequentially. Among the extracts, EtOH yielded the highest amount of plant substances. A total number of 85 extracts were evaluated for antibacterial activity, 80 for antifungal activity, 64 for anti-inflammatory activity, and 27 biologically active extracts were tested for genotoxicity. The microdilution method was used to determine the minimum inhibitory concentration values in the antibacterial assay against two Gram-negative bacteria (Escherichia coli ATCC 11775 and Klebsiella pneumoniae ATCC 13883) and two Gram-positive bacteria (Bacillus subtilis ATCC 6051 and Staphylococcus aureus ATCC 12600). A modified microdilution method was used to determine the minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) and minimum fungicidal concentration (MFC) values in the antifungal assay against Candida albicans. Cyclooxygenase assay was used to evaluate the anti-inflammatory activity of the extracts against cyclooxygenase-1 and -2 (COX-1 and COX-2) enzymes. The plant extracts were screened first at a concentration of 250 ƒÊg/ml per test sample, and then further screened at concentrations of 125 and 62.5 ƒÊg/ml for extracts that inhibited the COX-2 enzyme. The Ames test was used to test for genotoxicity in extracts that showed interesting pharmacological activities using Salmonella typhimurium strain TA98. Among the screened extracts, 25 extracts showed good antibacterial activity with MIC values . 1.0 mg/ml. Dichloromethane extracts exhibited the greatest antibacterial activity, and Gram-positive bacteria were most susceptible. The best antibacterial activity was exhibited by Becium obovatum leaf EtOH extracts with an MIC value of 0.074 mg/ml. A broad spectrum antibacterial activity was observed by leaf extracts of Cucumis hirsutus (PE), Haworthia limifolia (PE), Protea simplex (PE and DCM) and Dissotis princeps (EtOH) against both Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria. No interesting antibacterial activity was exhibited by water extracts with the exception of Dissotis princeps water extract with a good antibacterial activity against Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria. In the antifungal assay, 6 extracts showed interesting antifungal activity. Protea simplex leaf PE extract showed the best fungicidal activity with an MFC value of 0.014 mg/ml. The best overall antifungal activity was observed in plant EtOH extracts. Some extracts from Agapanthus campanulatus (leaves and roots), Dissotis princeps (leaves), Gladiolus dalenii (corms) and Protea simplex (leaves) showed good activity against Candida albicans. Twenty one extracts inhibited the COX-1 enzyme, while fifteen extracts inhibited the COX-2 enzyme at the lowest screening concentration of 62.5 ƒÊg/ml. The highest COX-1 inhibition at a concentration of 62.5 ƒÊg/ml was exhibited by Diospyros lycioides leaf PE extract (89.1%) while Agapanthus campanulatus root DCM extract showed the highest COX-2 inhibitory activity (83.7%) at the same concentration. In the Ames test, no genotoxicity was observed in any of the extracts, however more tests need to be done to confirm these results. Thin layer chromatograms of the organic solvent plant extracts were developed. The fingerprints of the plant extracts showed colours of bands at different Rf values when viewed under UV254 and UV366 suggesting that the investigated plant species contained different compounds in the extracts. In the quest to understand the source of the plants pharmacological activities, total phenolic compounds including condensed tannins, gallotannins and flavonoids were quantitatively investigated in terms of their amounts in the aqueous methanol extracts of the plants materials using spectrophotometric methods. Alkaloids and saponins were qualitatively determined. The amounts of total phenolics were determined by the Folin Ciocalteu assay, condensed tannins were determined by the butanol-HCl assay, while rhodanine and vanillin assays were used to determine the amounts of gallotannins and flavonoids respectively. Dragendorff reagent was used to detect alkaloids in the plant extracts on thin layer chromatographic plates, while the froth test was employed to detect saponins. Secondary metabolites varied with plant parts and species with Cyperus textilis (leaf) having the highest amounts of total phenolics, condensed tannins and flavonoids. The highest amount of gallotannins was detected in Protea simplex leaf extracts. All the investigated plant materials with the exception of Haworthia limifolia leaf, Protea simplex leaf, Antidesma venosum leaf and Dissotis princeps leaf tested positively to saponins. Alkaloids were detected in Haworthia limifolia leaf (PE and EtOH), Cucumis hirsutus leaf (EtOH), Becium obovatum root (DCM), Protea simplex root and bark (EtOH), Agapanthus campanulatus root (DCM) and leaf (EtOH), Cyperus textilis root (DCM), Vernonia natalensis leaf (PE), Antidesma venosum leaf (PE), Diospyros lycioides leaf (PE) and Dissotis princeps leaf (DCM) extracts. The results obtained from the investigation of the pharmacology and phytochemistry of the plant species used to treat microbial infections related to gastro-intestinal tracts, provide sufficient preliminary information to validate the use of some of the plants in traditional medicine. The information provided might be considered sufficient for further studies aimed at isolating and identifying the active compounds in the plant species, and evaluating possible synergism amongst the isolated compounds.


Thesis (M.Sc)-University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2009.


Anti-infective agents., Medicinal plants--South Africa., Traditional medicine--South Africa., Pharmacology., Phytochemicals., Gastrointestinal system--Diseases., Antibacterial agents., Antifungal agents., Drug development., Theses--Botany.