Unexpected applications of secondary metabolites
Secondary metabolites have been found to have interesting applications over and above their well-known medical uses, e.g., as antimicrobials, etc. These alternative applications include antitumor, cholesterol-lowering, immunosuppressant, antiprotozoal, antihelminth, antiviral and anti-ageing activities. Polyene antibiotics, such as amphotericin B, are of use as antiprion agents, antitumor drugs and against leishmaniasis. Other microbial natural products that show antibiotic activity are used against cancer e.g., doxorubicin, neomycin, β-lactams, bleomycin and rapamycin. Macrolide antibiotics, such as erythromycin, clarithromycin and azithromycin, improve pulmonary function in patients suffering from panbion cholitis. Pigments like prodigiosin and shikonin have antitumor activity, while violacein has anti-ulcer and antitumor activity and also acts as an antiprotozoal agent. Statins, in addition to lowering cholesterol and LDL levels, also decrease elevated C-reactive protein (CRP) levels independent of their cholesterol effects. Immunosppressants have many alternative effects: (i) Cyclosporin is proving useful in treatment of inflammatory disease such as asthma and muscular dystrophy. (ii) Rapamycin is extremely useful in preventing restenosis of stents grafted in balloon angioplasty. (iii) Tacrolimus and ascomycin help in treating inflammatory skin disease such as allergic contact dermatitis and psoriasis. Artemisinin, an antimalarial agent, is also showing antitumor activity. Other natural products, including those from plants (betulinic acid and shikonin), animals (bryostatins) and microbes (squalestatin and sophorolipids) have a multiplicity of potentially useful actions. Unexpected functions of known secondary metabolites are continuously being unraveled, and are fulfilling some of the needs of present day medicine and show great promise for the future.
Journal: Biotechnology Advances - Volume 29, Issue 2, March–April 2011, Pages 223–229