New research 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 is traditionally used as a treatment or fever, liver and lung complaints.
Previous research 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 can all kill human cancers while leaving healthy cells untouched.
In animal studies, flavones have also halted tumor growth. These findings offer hope that they may one day lead to effective cancer treatments or even cures.
As a group of compounds, flavones are relatively understood. However, the beneficial flavones found in Huang-Qin roots are different. They are missing a hydroxyl group in their chemical structure which left scientists scratching their heads as to how they were made in the plant.
Many flavones are synthesized using a compound called naringenin as a building block. However, naringenin has this hydroxyl group attached to it and there is no known enzyme that will remove it to produce the flavones that are ound in Huang-Qin roots.
Researchers explored the possibility that Huang-Qin’s root specific flavones were made via a different biochemical pathway. Scientists successful unraveled the mechanism involving new enzymes that make RSFs using a different building block called chrysin.
Researchers believe that this biosynthetic pathway has evolved relatively recently in Huang-Quin roots, which diverges from the classical pathway that produces flavones in leave and flowers. The classical pathway is specifically used to produce chrysin and its derived flavones.
Understanding the pathway would help researchers produce these special flavones in large quantities, which will enable further researcher into their potential medicinal uses.
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.