Evolutionary Advantage and Molecular Modes of Action of Multi- Component Mixtures Used in Phytomedicine
Plants use complex mixtures of secondary compounds (SM) of different structural classes to protect themselves against herbivores, bacteria, fungi and viruses. These complex mixtures may contain SM, which are specific for a single target (monotarget SM). A majority of SM, however, can interfere with several targets (multitarget SM) in a pleiotropic fashion. The composition of such extracts appears to be optimised, since the components are not only additive but apparently synergistic in their bioactivity. Synergism can be achieved by inhibiting the xenobiotics inactivating activities of animals and microbes (MDR, CYP), by facilitating the uptake of polar SM across biomembranes and/or by affecting several important organs in animals concomitantly. Phytotherapy employs equally complex extracts of medicinal plants. Arguments were put together that the utilisation of complex mixtures with pleiotropic agents presents a unique therapeutic approach with many advantages over monotarget compounds. Mixtures of multitarget SM, used in phytotherapy include phenolics, tannins, mono- and sequiterpenes, saponins, iridoid glucosides and anthraquinones, but only few of them alkaloids or other toxic monotarget SM.Multitarget effects are caused by SM, which can modulate the three-dimensional structure of proteins (and thus their function), by interfering with DNA/RNA (especially gene expression) or membrane permeability. In addition, complex extracts may contain synergists, which can inhibit MDR, cytochrome P450 or enhance absorption and thus bioavailability of active metabolites. The molecular modes of action are reviewed for the main groups of secondary metabolites.