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Scientists Discover How Chinese Medicinal Plant Makes Anti-Cancer Compound

source:  |  time:2016-05-17  |  【print】 【close

source:  |  time:2016-05-17

New research from a collaboration between the John Innes Centre, the Shanghai Institute of Plant Physiology and Ecology and the Centre of Excellence for Plant and Microbial Sciences (CEPAMS) has revealed how a plant used in traditional Chinese medicine produces compounds which may help to treat cancer and liver diseases.

The Chinese skullcap, Scutellaria baicalensis - otherwise known in Chinese medicine as Huang-Qin - is traditionally used as a treatment for fever, liver and lung complaints. Previous research on cells cultured in the lab has shown that certain compounds called flavones, found in the roots of this plant, not only have beneficial anti-viral and anti-oxidant effects, but they can also kill human cancers while leaving healthy cells untouched. In live animal models, these flavones have also halted tumour growth, offering hope that they may one day lead to effective cancer treatments, or even cures.
 

The Chinese skullcap, Scutellaria baicalensi(Image by Dr.Qing Zhao)


As a group of compounds, the flavones are well understood. The beneficial flavones found in Huang-Qin roots, such as wogonin and baicalin, are different: a mi¬ssing - OH (hydroxyl) group in their chemical structure left scientists scratching their heads as to how they were made in the plant. Dr. Qing Zhao, the first author of the paper published in Science Advances, explains: "Wogonin and baicalin are synthesised with naringenin as a building block. Like other flavonoes, naringenin has -OH group. The enzyme responsible for the removal of this –OH group in Huang-Qin roots remains elusive."

 

Dr. Zhao and his British and Chinese colleagues explored the possibility that Huang-Qin's root-specific flavones (RSFs) were made via a different biochemical pathway. Step-by-step, they unravelled the mechanism involving new enzymes that make RSFs using a different building block called chrysin.


"We believe that this biosynthetic pathway has evolved relatively recently in Scutellaria roots, diverging from the classical pathway that produces flavones in leaves and flowers, specifically to produce chrysin and its derived flavones," said Dr. Zhao.

Understanding the pathway should help us to produce these special flavones in large quantities, which will enable further research into their potential medicinal uses. It is wonderful to have collaborated with Chinese scientists on these traditional medicinal plants. Interest in traditional remedies has increased dramatically in China since Tu Youyou was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2015 for her work on artemisinin. It's exciting to consider that the plants which have been used as traditional Chinese remedies for thousands of years may lead to effective modern medicines.

This publication entitled “A specialized flavone biosynthetic pathway has evolved in the medicinal plant,Scutellaria baicalensis” is a high-profile output from the Centre of Excellence for Plant and Microbial Sciences (CEPAMS), established between the John Innes Centre and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in 2014. The research was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and CEPAMS and supported by the Chinese Scholarship Council (CSC).
 
AUTHOR CONTACT:
Dr. Qing Zhao
E-mail:zhaoqing01@sibs.ac.cn
Shanghai Institute of Plant Physiology and Ecology, Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences,
Shanghai, China 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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