4236 Current Medicinal Chemistry, 2009, 16, 4236-4260
0929-8673/09 $55.00+.00 © 2009 Bentham Science Publishers Ltd.
The Structure and Pharmacological Functions of Coumarins and Their
L. Wu1, X. Wang1, W. Xu2, F. Farzaneh3 and R. Xu*,1
1Engineering Research Center of Molecular Medicine, Ministry of Education & Institute of Molecular Medicine,
Huaqiao University, Fujian, 362021, China
2Faculty of Science, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia
3Department of Molecular Medicine, King’s College, London, UK
Abstract: Coumarins are of many different structures. They constitute an important class of pharmacological agents pos-
sessing a range of different physiological activities including anti-cancer, anti-oxidant, anti-inflammation, anti-HIV, anti-
coagulant, anti-bacterial, analgesic and comparative immune-modulation.
Recently, coumarins have attracted intense research interest. Of great interest is the possibility that this class of molecules
could be a source of drugs for the therapy of several diseases. These include recent insights into inhibiting cell prolifera-
tion by interfering with mitotic spindle microtubule function, decrease Matrix Metalloproteinase (MMP) activity, block
the cell cycle in the S or G2/M phases to interfere with processes of cell division, suppress O2
inhibit different protein kinases, modulate the signalings, induce carcinogen-detoxifying enzymes glutathione S-
transferases (GSTs) and/or NAD(P)H quinine oxidoreductase (NQO1), suppress the phosphorylation of Akt/PKB as a
mechanism inhibiting inflammation, progress in structure modification to increase in anti-fungal action, to broaden
against bacteria spectrum, to enhance inhibiting activities of nitric oxide synthase (NOS) and cyclooxygenase (COX), to
strengthen anti-oxidant activity and to exhibit a much higher cytotoxicity against human umbilical vein endothelial cell
(HUVEC). With fewer non-hemorrhagic side effects than the indanedione derivatives, they can be applied as an oral anti-
coagulant commonly for preventing venous thromboembolism following orthopedic surgery, recurrent myocardial infarc-
tion and the treatment of systemic embolism in atrial fibrillation, together with the significant advances in the basis of
drug action. It is therefore useful to build up some correlations with the data available in order to better explore the mo-
lecular and cellular mechanism of coumarin action in the treatment of diseases.
- generation in leukocytes,
This review will focus on recent advances in molecular and cellular mechanisms of coumarin action involved with the re-
lationship between structure and activity.
Keywords: Coumarins, structure-activity relationship, anti-cancer, anti-oxidant, anti-coagulant, anti-inflammation, anti-
Coumarins (also known as 1,2-benzopyrone or, less com-
monly, as o-hydroxycinnamic acid-8-lactone), constitute an
important and large class of oxygen heterocycles, often
found as plant secondary metabolites in the plant kingdom.
Many of the coumarins are oxygenated at position C-7,
which become 7-hydroxycoumarin, commonly known as
umbelliferone, often regarded as the biogenetic precursor of
more complex coumarins. The investigation of coumarin
compounds has revealed a wide spectrum of medicinal plant
extracts that are in use as early as 1000 A.D., contain a high
content of coumarins. To date, at least 1300 such compounds
have been identified (reviewed by Kostova, 2005) . In-
spection of the chemical structures of these compounds
shows that some of the coumarins reveal that substitutions
can occur at many sites. There are many possible permuta-
tions offered by substitution and conjugation, and this read-
ily explains why so many coumarins are naturally occurring
substances . In addition there are a large number of other
more complex compounds with the biological and the phar-
macological properties of coumarin that have structures that
are based on the coumarin nucleus [3-15]. The coumarins
can be roughly categorized as follows: (1) simple coumarins,
*Address correspondence to this author at the Engineering Research Center
of Molecular Medicine, Ministry of Education, Huaqiao University Main
Campus, Quanzhou, 362021, China; Tel: 0086-595-22691632;
Fax: 0086-595-22690952; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
(2) furanocoumarins (can be further grouped into linear and
angular types), (3) pyranocoumarins, (4) dicoumarins, and
(5) others like phenylcoumarins.
Because of their diverse pharmacological properties,
coumarins have attracted increasing research interest in re-
cent years. However, the details of relationship between the
structure and activity of coumarins remain obscure.
ANABOLIC AND CATABOLIC PATHWAYS OF
Coumarins naturally occur in many plants, primarily in
angiosperm, including Umbelliferae, Rutaceae, Legumino-
sae, Compositae, and Thymelaeceae. For instance, linear
furanocoumarins are found primarily in the Umbelliferae,
Moraceae, Rutaceae and Leguminosae families. Informations
about the biosythesis of coumarins have been increasing
steadily in recent years [16-21]. Coumarin is one element of
phenylpropanoids. Like other pyenylpropanoids, the anabolic
metabolism of simple coumarins, furanocoumarins and pyra-
nocoumarins derive from the phenylproanoid pathway,
whereas phenylalanine is formed by the shikimate pathway
. The most common phenylcoumarins originate from
isoflavone metabolism. Coumarins can also be formed as
products of the metabolism of phenylalanine via a cinnamic
acid, p-coumaric acid as shown in Fig. (2) [16, 22]. It is
thought that in the biosynthesis of coumarins, hydroxylation
The Structure and Pharmacological Functions of Coumarins Current Medicinal Chemistry, 2009 Vol. 16, No. 32 4237
Fig. (1). Chemical Structure of Coumarins: 1) simple coumarins, 2) furanocoumarins (can be further grouped into linear and angular types),
3) pyranocoumarins, 4) dicoumarins, 5) phenylcoumarin.
2'-hydrox caffeic acid
Fig. (2). The biosynthetic pathways of coumarins in plants [16, 22].
4238 Current Medicinal Chemistry, 2009 Vol. 16, No. 32
Wu et al.
takes place at the 2’-position of the ring of cinnamates, with
cis-trans geometrical isomaerization of the side chain and
As shown in Fig. (2), the hydroxylations in ortho- and
para- positions appear different pathway, which may indi-
cate that they would be catalyzed by different enzymes. Cin-
namate 4-hydroxylase, a cytochrome P450 (CYP) monooxy-
genase from the CYP73A family, catalyzes the conversion of
cinnamic acid to 4-coumaric acid, with the formation of um-
belliferone . Classically, umbelliferone rather than cou-
marin has been considered the parent compound of furano-
coumarins. The biosynthetic route of scopoletin has been
reported in Arabidopsis thaliana recently [19, 24]. It is re-
ported that scopoletin is biosynthesized from ferulic acid
rather than via the umbelliferone-esculetin- scopoletin path-
way . Ortho-hydroxylation is a key step in coumarin
biosynthesis as a branch point from lignin bisosynthesis; Kai
(2008) reported that Fe (?)-and 2-oxoglutarate-dependent
dioxygenase (2OGD) catalyzed ortho-hydroxylation before
the lactone ring formation of scopoletin by T-DNA insertion
mutants of F6’H1. The substrate of 2OGD is feruloyl CoA
thioester, not ferulic acid . This is inconsistent with the
results obtained from Bayoumi et al (2008), who investi-
gated the biosynthetic pathways of scopoletin by using stable
isotope labeling to study post-harvest physiological deterio-
ration in Cassava roots . Bayoumi et al also demon-
strated that the major pathway was through o-hydroxylation
but not via a proposed spirolactone-dienone intermediate by
feeding C18O2-carboxylate- labelled cinnamic and ferulic
acids . The biosynthesis of linear and angular furano-
coumarins is still poorly understood at the molecular level,
with only psoralen synthase (CYP71AJ1) identified from
Ammi majus. Three new members of the CYP71AJ subfam-
ily (CYP71AJ2-4) were cloned by Larbat et al (2009) who
found that psoralen synthase (CYP71AJ3) and angelicin syn-
thase (CYP71AJ4) showed 70% identity in sequence com-
There are many pathways for involved in coumarin to
decomposition (Fig. 3). Coumarin may be metabolized by
hydroxylation at all six possible positions (i.e. carbon atoms
3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8) to yield 3-, 4-, 5-,6-, 7- and 8-hydroxy-
coumarins (3-, 4-, 5-, 6-, 7- and 8-HCs) and by opening of
the lactone ring to yield various individual products includ-
ing o-hydroxyphenylacetaldehyde (o-HPA) (a major metabo-
lite of coumarin in rat and mouse liver microsomes), o-
hydroxyphenylethanol (o-HPE), o-hydroxyphenylacetic acid
(o-HPAA) and o-hydroxyphenyllactic acid (o-HPLA). Addi-
tional metabolites of coumarin include 6,7-dihydroxy-
coumarin(6,7-diHC), o-coumaric acid (o-CA), o-hydroxy-
phenyl propionic acid (o-HPPA) and dihydrocoumarin
(DHC) [26, 27].
Two important pathways for coumarin metabolism are 7-
hydroxylation and metabolism of the lactone ring which in-
volves ring opening and cleavage of the carbon 2 atom to
yield carbon dioxide. The first step in coumarin metabolism
by the latter pathway is the formation of a coumarin 3, 4-
epoxide intermediate. However, under aqueous conditions,
coumarin 3, 4-epoxide degrades rapidly, with the loss of
carbon dioxide to form o-HPA, which can be further metabo-
lized to o-HPE and o-HPAA . But o-HPA formation did
not accurately reflect the rate of coumairn 3.4-epoxidation.
Thus, to quantitatively measure it, the glutathione (GSH)
conjugate method was included, the ratio of coumarin 7-
hydroxylation to 3,4-epoxidation by CYP2A13 was 1.0 to
1.3 compared with a ratio of 1.0 to 0.7 .
CYP enzymes are ubiquitous catalysts of oxidative me-
tabolism in biological systems. Enzymes from the CYP1,
Fig. (3). Representative pathways of coumarin metabolism [26, 27].
The Structure and Pharmacological Functions of Coumarins Current Medicinal Chemistry, 2009 Vol. 16, No. 32 4239
CYP2 and CYP3 families are generally regarded as repre-
senting the major catalysts for xenobiotic and drug metabo-
lism in man. The 7-hydroxylation of coumarin by CYP2A6
is one of the most specific probe activities displayed by any
of the CYP enzymes, and no other human CYP isoform has
the capacity to catalyze 7-hydroxylation to any a significant
degree [29, 30]. Cytochrome P450-mediated coumarin 7-
hydroxylation in human, specifically the role of CYP2A6,
has been extensively studied [26, 27, 31]. And recently, more
information has become available in the human P450s in-
volved in coumarin 7-hydroxylation and 3, 4-epoxidation.
Computer modeling and docking studies show that CYP2A6
structure has a compact, hydrophobic active site with one
hydrogen bond donor, Asn297, that orients coumarin for
regioselective oxidation. The potential for either the oxygen
of the ether side chain or the carbonyl to hydrogen bond with
Asn297 may provide less discrimination for substrate orien-
tation. For example, the oxidation of 7-ethoxy and 7-
methoxy-coumarin by CYP2A6 is less regiospecific and
occurs on opposite ends of the substrate, resulting in O-
dealkylation or 3-hydroxylation . Mutation of residue
Asn297 had been shown to influence substrate binding and
metabolism. An N297S mutant was determined to have 4-
fold decreased catalytic efficiency for coumarin 7-
hydroxylation , and nearly 30-fold decreased binding
affinity for coumarin . CYP2A13 is also an efficient
catalyst for coumarin metabolism . Unlike CYP2A6,
CYP2A13 catalyzes both the 7-hydroxylation and 3, 4-
epoxidation of coumarin with similar efficiency . The
active sites of CYP2A6 and CYP2A13 share several similar
characteristics, which include a cluster of phenylalanine
residues that line the “roof” of the active site and the pres-
ence of a single polar residue, Asn297 . In a kinetic
study, Zhuo et al reported that cDNA-expressed CYP1A1,
CYP1A2, CYP2B6, CYP2E1 and CYP3A4 enzymes could
catalyze the metabolism of coumarin to the 3,4-epoxidation
pathway metabolite o-HPA, whereas cDNA-expressed
CYP2A6 only formed 7-hydroxycoumarin (7-HC) . The
metabolism of coumarin to o-HPA by cDNA-expressed
CYP1A1, CYP1A2 and CYP2E1 was also reported by Born
et al who observed that coumarin could be metabolised to 3-
hydroxycoumarin by CYP3A4 and to a lesser extent by other
P450s . Modeling by homology with the CYP2C5 crys-
tallographic template, CYP1, CYP2 and CYP3 famlies in
human P450 were proved in agreement with the known me-
tabolism of coumarin, and with information from site-
directed mutagenesis studies . Little information about
metabolism of furanocoumarins is available. Xenobiotic-
metabolizing P450 families in insects were CYP6, like
CYP2 and CYP3 in mammals. In Papilio glaucus, CYP6B1
exhibits very high activity toward the methoxylated linear
furanocoumarins, lower activity toward unsubstitued and
other linear furanocoumarins, and much lower activity to-
ward the angular furanocoumarins. Modeling programs stud-
ies showed that an aromatic network that involves residues
Phe-116, His-117, Phe-484, and Phe-371 was critical for
substrate binding affinity to the CYP6B1 active site .
STRUCTURE AND BIOLOGICAL FUNCTIONS
Coumarins, a plant secondary metabolite, some of the
biological activities of them are believed to relate to their
ability to act as phytoalexins. Phytoalexins accumulate in
leaves and fruits to inhibit the growth and spread of bacteria
or fungi, and act as repellents orantimetabolites against her-
bivorous insects like locust. These are naturally synthesized
by plant to function as protective chemicals against traumatic
injury, microorganism invasion, and insect damage. Since
substitutions can occur at any of the six available sites of
their basic coumarin nucleus, their structural diversity leads
to multiple biological properties. The diverse biological
functions of coumarins include anti-leukemia [3-4], anti-
inflammation [5-6], anti-platelet aggregation [7-8], anti-can-
cer [9-10], anti-convulsant , comparative immunomodu-
latory , and analgesic [13-15] properties.
ANTI-CANCER AND APOPTOSIS
The antineoplastic action of coumarin derivatives, all of
which act at different stages of cancer formation, has been
summarized in Table 1, including the different cytostatic
properties and cytotoxic activity observed. The anti-tumor
activity of coumarin and 7-HC against human tumor cell
lines was first noted by Weber et al  and its use in cancer
chemotherapy was first developed the application of War-
farin sodium (6) on V2 cancer cell, granulocytes, lympho-
cytes and macrophages in different animal models .
Clinical trials demonstrating activity in many different can-
cers, including prostate cancer, malignant melanoma and
metastatic renal cell carcinoma have also been reported. En-
couraginglly, Irish melanoma group first demonstrated that a
daily ingestion of 50 mg of coumarin or warfarin prevented
the early recurrence of high risk malignant melanoma with-
out toxic effects .
Many different hypotheses have been postulated as to the
mode of action for different coumarin derivatives including
4-hydroxycoumarin (4-HC) and 7-HC (Table 2). These in-
clude the observations that 4-HC decreases tyrosine phos-
phorylation of several proteins in melanoma cells line B16-
F10 , whereas 7-HC inhibits myosin light chain kinase
 and disrupts the formation of the mitotic spindle micro-
tubules in Allium cepa cells, leading to the random distribu-
tion of the chromosomes at metaphase. This is a form of cy-
totoxicity common to mitotic spindle poisons that inhibit
mitosis through modifying microtubule dynamics , sug-
gesting that different coumarin compounds may inhibit cell
proliferation by interfering with mitotic spindle microtubule
To examine the effect of coumarin and its derivatives, in-
cluding 2-hydroxycoumarin, 4-hydroxycoumairn, 7-HC,
daphnetin (7,8-dihydroxycoumarin), and esculetin (7), on the
activities of protein kinases, including epidermal growth
factor (EGF) receptor tyrosine kinase, protein kinase A
(PKA) and protein kinase C (PKC), Yang et al suggested
that hydroxylation not at C2, C4, C6, and C7 but at C8 might
be important for acting as a protein kinase inhibitor. The
inhibitory kinetics by daphnetin was determined, and this
compound inhibited tyrosine-specific protein kinase, EGF
receptor (IC50=7.67?M) and PKA (IC50=9.33?M) and PKC
(IC50=25.01?M) in vitro .
Most of the antineoplastic drugs presently used in cancer
therapy block the cell cycle in the S or G2/M phases. Never-
4240 Current Medicinal Chemistry, 2009 Vol. 16, No. 32
Wu et al.
Coumarins that have Been Used as Anti-Cancer Medicines so Far
Compounds Cell lines/cancers References
B16-F10 [Velasco-Velazquez et al., 42] 4-HC
HepG2 cells [Yang et al., 46]
SK-MEL-31cells [Finn et al., 60] 6-nitro-7-hydroxycoumarin derivatives
A-498 [Finn et al., 62]
carboxylic acid derivatives
HT 1080 fibrosarcoma cells [Win et al., 9]
Gastric carcinoma cells [Weber et al., 39]
Caco-2 [Weber et al.,39]
Allium cepa cells [Podbielkowska et al., 44]
[Yang et al., 46], [Weber et al., 39]
[Lopez-Gonzalez et al., 47]
[Finn et al., 60]
Lymphoblastic cells [Weber et al., 39]
7-diethylaminocoumarins HUVEC [Seokjoon et al., 64]
HL-60 cells [Kurakami et al., 67]
Oral and liver cancers [Tanaka et al., 68]
Esophageal cancer [Kawabata et al., 69]
Colon cancers [Kohno et al., 71],
[Kawabata et al., 72]
B16BL6 melanoma cell [Tanaka et al., 76]
M4Beu [Barthomeuf et al., 77]
Coumarin Malignant melanoma [Thornes et al., 41]
Compound 14 MCF-7 [Jacquot et al., 66]
HepG2 cells [Yang et al., 46] Daphnetin
A-498 [Finn et al., 48]
Human K562 erythroleukemia [Kim et al., 78], [Kim et al., 79] Decursin
U937 cells [Kim et al., 78]
U937 cells [Riveiro et al., 54]
HL-60 cells [Riveiro et al., 54]
A549 (NSCLC) [Goel et al., 55], [Goel et al., 56]
HepG2 cells [Yang et al., 46]
U937 cells [Lee et al., 49], [Park et al., 50]
HL-60 cells [Chu et al., 3], [Wang et al., 58]
MCF-7 cells [Kolodziej et al., 57]
Imperatorin, isopimpinellin Mammary carcinogenesis [Prince et al., 81]
Scopoletin HL-60 cells [Kim et al., 51], [Kim et al., 52]
Silver coumarins HepG2 cells [Wang et al., 58],
[Bhumika et al., 59]
V2 cancer cells [Thornes et al., 40] Warfarin sodium
Malignant melanoma [Thornes et al., 41]
The Structure and Pharmacological Functions of Coumarins Current Medicinal Chemistry, 2009 Vol. 16, No. 32 4241
Biological Pathways of Representative Coumarins
Compounds Biological Responses and Pathways Reference
4-HC Decreasing tyrosine phosphorylation [Velasco-Velazquez et al., 42]
6-NO2-7-HC Activation of p38, SAPK, and MAPK; blocking at sub-G1 phase [Finn et al., 62]
Inhibiting myosin light chain kinase; disrupting the formation of the mitotic spindle microtubules;
blocking in G1 phase
[Wang et al., 43],
[Lopez-Gonzalez et al., 47]
Auraptene Elevation in the phase? enzymes GST and QR; suppressing MMP-7, -2, -9 expression
[Tanaka et al.,68],
[Kawabata et al., 72]
DAMC Inhibition of the catalytic activity of GST [Raj et al., 98]
Inhibiting activities of protein kinases, including EGF receptor tyrosine kinase, PKA, PKC; up-
regulation of p38MAPK; blocking in S phase at low concentration but in G1 and early S phase at
[Yang et al., 46], [Finn et al., 48]
DBC Inhibiting microtubule functions and triggering apoptosis [Kim et al., 65]
Decursin Down-regulation of PKC? and ?II [Kim et al., 78]
DHMC Activation of JNKs; inhibition of ERK1/2, PI3K/Akt; induction of p21WAF1/CIP1 [Riveiro et al., 54]
Mediation of tubulin binding and stabilization of spindle microtubule dynamics; inhibiting the
release of MMPs; inhibiting the pathway involving tissue factor and factor VIIa.
[Madari et al.,45], [Li et al., 84]
Induction of p21; decreasing the activity of Cdks; inhibition of pRB phosphorylation; mitochon-
drial dysfunction; activation of caspase-3
[Lee et al., 49], [Park et al., 50],
[Chu et al., 3]
Imperatorin Inhibition of CYP1A1/1B1 and induction hepatic GSTs to block the formation of DNA adducts [Prince et al., 81]
Scopoletin Activation of NF-?B and caspase-3 [Kim et al., 51],
[Kim et al., 52]
theless, Lopez-Gonzalez reported that coumarin and umbel-
liferone (8) showed significant inhibition of proliferation of
non-small cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC), and that umbellif-
erone blocked the cell cycle in the G1 phase and inducing
apoptosis . Daphnetin was demonstrated to have the anti-
prolierative effects against renal cell carcinoma (RCC) line,
A-498 by inhibiting S phase cell cycle transition at low
concentrations and G1 and early S phase at higher concentra-
tions through modulation of extracellular-regulated kinase
(ERK)1/2 and p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase
(p38MAPK) signaling. This results in a hypothesis that
daphnetin could cause inhibition of EGFR signaling, coupled
with a modulation of PKC and PKA signaling, which ap-
proached to a down-regulation of proliferative signals and an
associated up-regulation of differentiation signals, including
p38MAP kinase. Lee et al studied the anti-proliferative ac-
tion of esculetin on cultured human monocytic leukemia
U937 cells, and found that the ERK pathway participates in
p21 induction . This subsequently leads to a decrease in
the kinase activity of cyclin-dependent kinases (Cdks) and to
the inhibition of pRB phosphorylation in esculetin-mediated
G1 cell-cycle arrest of U937 cells .
Esculetin-induced apoptosis has been correlated with
mitochondrial dysfunction, leading to the release of
cytochrome c from the mitochondria in to the cytosol, as
well as to the proteolytic activation of caspases. In addition,
esculetin selectively increased the phosphorylations of ERK
and c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK), which are key regulators
of apoptosis in response to esculetin in human leukemia
U937 cells . Esculetin has been found to inhibit the
survival of human promyelocytic leukemia HL-60 cells in a
concentration and time-dependent manner. It induces
apoptosis in human leukemia cells by increasing the
leukemia cells by increasing the translocation of cytochrome
c from mitochondria into the cytosol and via activation of a
cysteine protease 32 kDa proenzyme (CPP32), which is one
of caspase-3 family  (Table 2). Kim et al investigated
scopoletin (6-methoxy-7-hydroxycoumarin) induced apopto-
sis in human promyeloleukemic cells and found that sco-
poletin activated NF-?B and caspase-3, and finally initiated
apoptosis in HL-60 cells [51, 52] (Table 2). In addition, it
was suggested that the generation of reactive oxygen inter-
mediates (ROIs) might be an important factor in scopoletin-
induced apoptosis of HL-60 cells. The activation of caspase-
3 by ROIs was responsible for the proteolytic cleavage of
cellular substrates including actin, lamin, poly (ADP-ribose)
polymerase (PARP) and inhibitors of deoxyribonuclease
(such as DFF45 or ICAD) .
Based on the structural similarity between esculetin and
7-HC, it is likely that 7-HC induces apoptosis in the adeno-
carcinoma cell lines via the same pathway . 7, 8-
dihydroxy-4- methylcoumarin (DHMC) was reported to in-
duce selective and concentration-dependent apoptosis in hu-
man leukemic cells. The pro-apoptotic effect of DHMC was
mediated by activation of the JNKs and inhibition of the
ERK1/2 and PI3K/Akt pathways, with no participation of the
p38 cascade . In addition, down-regulation of the proto-
oncogene c-myc as well as induction of the cell cycle inhibi-
tor p21WAF1/CIP1 through a p53 independent mechanism was
observed in U-937 cells . DHMC was also reported to
induce apoptosis of A549 (NSCLC) (IC50=160?g/ml) by
reactive oxygen species (ROS)-independent mitochondrial
pathway through partial inhibition of ERK/MAPK signaling
. Therefore, acetylation of DHMC to 7,8-diacetoxy-4-
methylcoumarin (DAMC) and its thiocoumarin derivative
4242 Current Medicinal Chemistry, 2009 Vol. 16, No. 32
Wu et al.
7,8-diacetoxy-4-methylthiocoumarin (DAMTC) was found
to exhibit similar toxic activity (A549 IC50=160?g/ml) .
The presence and the position of the hydroxyls in the
structures of coumarins will greatly influence the cytotoxic
values. A comparative study of various hydroxyl coumarin
derivatives on the growth of breast carcinoma MCF-7 cells
has underlined the functional importance of dihydroxy sub-
stitution in esculetin formation . This activity is further
confirmed by a recent report regarding esculetin-induced
inhibition of cell cycle progression in human leukemia HL-
60 cells . Tumor specific cytotoxicity of the naturally
occurring esculetin can be further enhanced by substitutions
at 3- and/or 4-position. Hydroxylation in positions of 6, 7 or
8 coumarin-3-carboxylic acid (9) and their associated silver
complex induced a concentration-dependent cytotoxic effect.
The silver complex dramatically enhanced cytotoxicity in
HepG2 cells with IC50 values 2-5.5 times greater than cis-
Finn et al found that 7-HC and coumarin had similar
toxic activity on treated SK-MEL-31cells, and that novel,
synthetic, nitrated coumarins, including 6-nitro-7-hydroxy-
coumarin (6-NO2-7-HC) and 3,6,8-nitro-7-hydroxycoumarin
(3,6,8-NO2-7-HC) showed significantly more toxicity as well
as being dose and time dependent . Furthermore, 7-HC,
6-NO2-7-HC and 3,6,8-NO2-7-HC were found to be irre-
versible cytotoxic agents and to inhibit the S phase regula-
tory protein, cycliin A, so as to inhibit DNA synthesis, but 7-
HC was the only nitro-derivative which acted in a selective
manner . 6-NO2-7-HC has been shown to be a selective
anti-proliferative agent capable of activating p38, stress-
activated protein kinase (SAPK) and MAP kinase in the hu-
man renal carcinoma cell line, A-498. The participation of
p38 MAP kinase was involved in 6-NO2-7-HC induced
apoptosis of A-498 cells by altering cell cycle progression,
leading to the appearance of a sub-G1 peak  (Table 2).
Coumarin derivatives exhibit great functions in pharma-
cotherapy of breast cancer (reviewed by Musa et al 2008)
. A series of 7-diethylaminocoumarin compounds have
been tested and exhibited a cytotoxicity effect against human
umbilical vein endothelial cell (HUVEC) and some other
cancer cell lines. Introduction of cyano groups at the 4-
position greatly promoted the bioactivity and compound (10)
could strongly inhibits the proliferation of various different
The Structure and Pharmacological Functions of Coumarins Current Medicinal Chemistry, 2009 Vol. 16, No. 32 4243
cancer cell lines, whereas compound (11) and (12) showed a
high selectivity for HUVEC . But without cyano groups
at C4, DBC (13) has a broad spectrum of antiproliferative
activity toward various multidrug resistant (MDR) cancer
cell lines (IC50=44.8-475.2nM) by inhibiting microtubule
functions and triggering apoptosis. This can be explained by
the suggestion that DBC is a poor substrate of P-gp drug
efflux pump and retains substantial activity against P-gp
overexpressing . Bhumika et al used a selection of bio-
chemical assays to show that 6-hydroxycoumarin -3-
carboxylatosilver was capable of inducing apoptotic cell
death in Hep-G2 cells by increasing the activity of pro-
apoptosis caspases 3, and through the cleavage of PARP,
which is one of the substrates for caspases 3, thereby de-
creasing the percentage of cells entering G0/G1 . Jacquot
et al reported that 2, 4-diaryl-4H, 5H-pyrano [3,2-
c]benzopyran-5-ones (14) exhibited a strong antiproliferative
activities in MCF-7 breast carcinoma cells .
Auraptene (15) and umbelliprenin (16) are both coumar-
ins with the only difference being the increase length of the
7-prenyloxy chain which contains 15 instead of 10 carbons
in auraptene. Both auraptene and umbelliprenin have been
isolated from cold-pressed oil of natsumikan and proved to
inhibit tumor promoter 12-O-tetradecanoylphorhol-13-
acetate (TPA)-induced Epstein-Barr virus by the mechanism
of suppressing O2
auraptene was found to be effective in inhibiting the devel-
opment of oral neoplasms induced by 4-nitroquinoline 1-
oxide (4-NQO). This mechanism might be related to eleva-
tion in the phase? enzymes glutathione S-transferases (GST)
and quinine reductase (QR) of the liver and tongue . Die-
tary auraptene was also reported to be effective in inhibiting
the development of esophageal tumors by N-nitrosomethyl-
benzylamine (NMBA) when given during the initiation as
well as post-initiation phases, and such inhibition was related
to suppression of cell proliferation in the esophageal epithe-
lium . Besides, auraptene was also reported be a poten-
tial chemopreventive agent against rat hepatocarcinogenesis
induced by N, N-diethylnitrosamine  and colitis-related
colon cancer in rodents .
Both Auraptene and umbelliprenin have been reported as
being able to decrease Matrix Metalloproteinase (MMP)
activity [72, 73] and auraptene has been shown to reduce
inducible nitric oxide synthase and cyclooxygenase-2 ex-
pression in lipopolysaccharide-stimulated inflammatory cells
 and decrease lipid peroxidation and experimental car-
cinogenesis in rats . In 2006, Kawabata et al reported
that auraptene showed great efficacy in suppressing MMP-7,
-2,-9 expression in the human colorectal adenocarcinoma
cell line HT-29 by the mechanism of remarkable inhibition
of the production of proMMPs proteins through the dephos-
phorylation of constitutively activated extracellular signal--
-generation in leukocytes . Citrus
regulated kinase (ERK)1/2, without affecting its mRNA ex-
pression level . Tanaka et al reported that auraptene
could significantly reduce the growth and number of metas-
tatic lung tumors in mice bearing B16BL6 murine melanoma
. Metastatic pigmented malignant melanoma (M4Beu)
cell-proliferation is inhibited by umbelliprenin (IC50 12.3uM)
via a G1 cell-cycle arrest and through induction of caspase-
inpendent apoptosis. The finding that the cytotoxic effect of
umbelliprenin is markedly more pronounced in M4Beu cells
than in primary fibroblasts, suggests it could be used as a
potential therapeutic agent .
PKC has always been considered an attractive target for
anti-cancer drug screening because it is the cellular receptor
for tumor-promoting phorbol esters. Decursin (17) is a tu-
mor-suppressing PKC activator that induces the down-
regulation of PKC? and ?II and promotes their translocation
into the nuclear membrane of K562 cells , and competi-
tively inhibits the binding of PKC and phorbol 12,13-
dibutyrate (PDBu), which induces the megakaryocytic dif-
ferentiation of K562 through PKC activation . The struc-
ture activity relationship of decursin has led to suggestion
that the coumarin structure is required for anti-leukemic ac-
tivity and the side chain is a determinant of PKC activation
and the cytotoxic mechanism seen in leukemia cells 
Simple natural and synthetic coumarins such as esculetin
and the synthetic 6-nitro-substituted coumarin are known to
exert anti-cancer properties. Anti-cancer chemotherapies
often consist of using cytotoxic agents to interfere with proc-
esses of cell division in order to disrupt tumor cell prolifera-
tion, invasion and metastasis. However, the majority of drugs
that target the latter stages of tumor progression are still in
clinical trials, including vascular endothelial growth factor
(VEGF) and epidermal growth factor (EGF) inhibitors
(monoclonal antibodies) and their receptor tyrosine kinase
inhibitors (small-molecule inhibitors) as well as MMP,
urokinase (uPA), cycloogygenase-2(COX-2) or methionine
aminopeptidase inhibitors . Recently it has been reported
that a coumarin derivative (18) (IC50=0.3?M) has been iden-
tified as MAP kinase, ERK kinase inhibitors (MEK1 inhibi-
tors).This has led to the development of two chemical ana-
logue (19) and (20) which also show anti-cancer activity
through inhibition of MEK1. These two coumarin de-
rivatives display high antiangiogenic activity both in vitro
and in vivo . Several 6-substituted 2-oxo-2H-1-
benzopyran-3-carboxylic acid derivatives had been synthe-
sized, evaluated and found that they exhibit great potency in
reducing the invasive behaviour of HT 1080 fibrosarcoma
cells . Isabelle et al also found that the replacement of
the ester function in the 6-position of (19) and (20) by an
amide function was allowed without a loss of potency in the
“Boyden chamber” chemoinvasion assay with HT 1080 .
19 X=Cl 20 X=Br
4244 Current Medicinal Chemistry, 2009 Vol. 16, No. 32
Wu et al.
A blockage in the formation of DNA adducts has been
shown to inhibit tumorigenesis and Prince et al proposed that
the inhibition of both CYP1A1/1B1 and induced hepatic
GSTs could be most effective . To compare the effi-
ciency, simple coumarin (e.g. coumarin and limettin (21)
which induced mouse hepatic GSTs, but had little effect on
CYP1A1/1B1) and linear furanocoumarins (e.g. imperatorin
(22) and isopimpinellin (23) which induced hepatic GSTs
and were potent inhibitors of CYP1A1/1B1) were taken into
consideration. The results showed that both were high effi-
cacy, but that linear furanocoumarins had a greater inhibitory
effect on 7,12-dimethylbenz[a]anthracene(DMBA)-DNA
adduct formation in mouse mammary glands. This raises the
possibility that a combination of both P450 inhibition and
GST induction might lead to more effective inhibition of
polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon mammary carcinogenesis
. Less is known about the effects of the pyranocoumarins
on carcinogenesis, as their availablitiy has been limited. Un-
til recently, the pyranocoumarin compound (±)-3-angeloyl -
4-acetoxy- cis-khel-lactone was isolated from Radix peuce-
dani and caused apoptotic cell death for drug sensitive KB-3-
1 and MDR KB-V1 cancer cell lines by the mechanism of
being a P-gp inhibitor .
Some coumarins possess enhancing effects on lympho-
cyte mitogen responsiveness. Scopoletin had dual effects on
both concanavalin A-stimulated murine T-cell proliferation
and an antiproliferative activity in a lymphoma cell line .
The antiproliferative action exerted by scopoletin on tumor
cells was through a dual action mechanism which revealed
that at low concentrations cell viability was not affected,
whereas at high concentrations a cytotoxic effect and a de-
crease in cell viability were described . The latter event
could be related to an induction of apoptosis, where cells
with apoptotic morphology were observed in significant
amounts at concentrations that show a cytotoxic effect. Sco-
poletin-inducing cell proliferation in normal T lymphocytes
was found to be due to the interaction with PKC . There
are three types of immunomodulation, type 1 (enhanced
lymphocyte activation and secretion of IFN?), type 2 (en-
hanced lymphocyte activation) and type 3 (enhanced secre-
tion of IFN?). Isopimpinellin, bergapten, and xanthotoxin
(72) may also serve as candidates for the immuno-
stimulating activity of IFN? secretion. Among the three
coumarins tested, two types of immunomodulation were ex-
hibited and correlated with the number of methoxy groups
including, a type 2 response of isopimpinellin (two methoxy
group and lymphocyte activation), and a type 3 immuno-
modulation of bergapten and xanthotoxin (one methoxy
group and elevation of IFN? secretion), whereas the position
of the methoxy group affected the immunomodulating po-
tency such as bergapten (5-methoxypsoralen) and xantho-
toxin (8-methoxypsoralen) .
ANTI-COAGULANT AND ANTI-PLATELET
Some coumarins, primarily 4-HCs and their derivatives,
are conferred to function as anti-coagulants. Coumarin anti-
coagulants have been demonstrated to inhibit metastasis in
several animal models, but the mechanism of this effect is
obscure . Little information has been acquired on the mo-
lecular and cellular mechanism of action of coumarin anti-
coagulants in the treatment of malignancies. Tumor cell in-
vasion is dependent on angiogenesis and requires both cell
migration and the digestion of basement membrane via pro-
teases. Dicoumarol (3, 3’-methylenebis [4-hydroxy-cou-
marin] (24) is a natural anti-coagulant drug. The antiprolif-
erative mechanism of action of dicoumarol and any possible
related pharmacophores may be mediated by tubulin binding
and the stabilization of spindle microtubule dynamics .
As Taxol has been reported to inhibit migration of human
ovarian and prostate carcinoma cells , and that coumarin
anti-coagulants can inhibit the thrombin-induced release of
matrix metalloproteinases that cause the breakdown of ex-
tracellular matrix proteins, it is logical to assume that dicou-
marol might enhance the antiadhesive activity of taxanes.
Coumarin anti-coagulants inhibit the pathway involving tis-
sue factor and factor VIIa. Tissue factor VIIa appears to be a
major contributor to the regulation of angiogenic growth
properties of tumor cells, and in vivo studies have demon-
strated a significant role for warfarin in the regulation of the
inhibition of angiogenesis. Dicoumarol and coumarins could
provide a new structural class for synthetic agents that could
lead to improved antineoplastic drugs. In addition, dicouma-
rol and other coumarin anti-coagulants might have other new
tumor specificities other than those currently used as anti-
mitotic agents .
Oral anti-coagulants are the most commonly used agents
in the long-term prophylaxis and treatment of arterial and
venous thrombosis disorders . There are two distinct
chemical groups of oral anti-coagulants: the 4-hydroxy cou-
marin derivatives (e.g., warfarin sodium) and the indane-1,
3-dione derivatives (e.g., phenindione). Oral anti-coagulants
are also used commonly for preventing venous thromboem-
bolism following orthopedic surgery. The coumarin deriva-
tives are the oral anti-coagulants of choice, because they are
associated with fewer nonhemorrhagic side effects than the
indanedione derivatives. Warfarin is highly protein-bound
(primarily albumin), leaving only the nonprotein-bound ma-
The Structure and Pharmacological Functions of Coumarins Current Medicinal Chemistry, 2009 Vol. 16, No. 32 4245
terial as biologically active. As more applications are devel-
oped, including prevention of recurrent myocardial infarction
and the treatment of systemic embolism in atrial fibrillation,
the use of oral anti-coagulants is rising.
Any drug or chemical that is also bound to albumen may
displace warfarin from its protein-binding sites and thereby
increase the availability of biologically active material .
Warfarin is metabolized in the liver by the p450 (CYP2C9)
system of enzymes. Interference with the CYP2C9 enzymes
by various drugs or a mutation in the gene coding for one of
the common CYP2C9 enzymes can interfere markedly with
the metabolism of warfarin . The structural features re-
sponsible for the anti-coagulant activity of coumarins, using
3 major methods, have been examined . These are: (1)
the influence of substitutions, such as hydroxyl and
methoxyl groups. (2) The examination of compounds in
which the oxygen atom in position 4 was involved in a pre-
formed ring system simulating cyclic acetals. (3) Coumarin
derivatives, devoid of an oxygen function in the 4-position
substitute, like 3- and
methylcoumarins. Loading the molecule with additional
methoxyl groups either potentiated or inhibited activity de-
pending on the positions of the substitute . Thus there is
considerable difference in activity between the isomeric di-
coumarol derivatives, 3, 3’-methylenebis (4-hydroxy-5, 7-
dimethoxycoumarin (25) and 3, 3’-methylenebis (4-hydroxy-
7,8-dimethoxycoumarin) (26) . The higher activity of the
compound with substitutes in position 8 showed the impor-
tance of location. Similar findings exist for the 4-
hydroxycoumarins, and furthermore, in 4-hydroxycoumarins
a bromine atom at position 3 slightly increases the molar
activity, while an acetyl group in the same position conferred
even greater activity.
Interestingly, 3- and 4-phenylcoumarins were very weak
anti-coagulants. These compounds exerted a significant dif-
4-phenylcoumarin and 4-
ference between the activity of the various hydroxylated de-
rivatives and that of their corresponding methyl ethers. Thus,
invariably, the methylation of a free hydroxyl group in-
creased the anti-coagulant activity. This result may indicate
the importance of ionization as one of the factors aiding the
vitamin-K-like activity. Introduction of an 8-acetyl group
into 7-hydroxy-4-methylcoumarin (27) increased the antico-
agulant activity, whereas introduction of a hydroxyl,
methoxyl or benzamido group in position 3 of coumarin de-
creases the anti-coagulant activity  (Table 3).
1-benzopyran-2-one (RC414) (28) was tested for its effect on
human platelets. The results revealed that RC414 in a dose-
dependent manner inhibited aggregation both in platelet rich
plasma and in washed platelets. It was particularly effective
in platelets challenged by collagen, ADP and thrombin: IC50
values are 0.51± 0.12 uM, 0.98±0.36 uM and 1.00 ± 0.15
uM, respectively . RC414 increased cAMP levels,
through the specific inhibition of the cAMP high affinity
phosphodiesterase (IC50=1.73±0.35 uM). RC414 reduced
[Ca2+]i transients and PKC activation induced by thrombin.
In addition RC414 was able to increase nitric oxide forma-
tion involving the stimulation of constitutive nitric oxide
synthase enzyme . The introduction of a 6- or 7- alkoxy
substituent could increase the activity of the coumarin de-
rivative (29) . Furthermore, it seemed to indicate that the
effectiveness of a 7-alkoxy substitution rose in accordance
with its volume/lipophilicity ration in the order OCH3??
OC2H5?OCH(CH3)2 or OCH2C6H5. In turn, the 8-methyl
substitution increased the anti-platelet activity of the 7-
alkoxy substituted compounds . Two coumarins deriva-
tives (30) and (31) have been reported to allow the relaxation
of vascular smooth muscle and inhibiting platelet aggrega-
tion with a profle similar to that of trans-resveratrol (t-
RESV) (32). Compound (31) has a vaso-relaxant activity that
30: R1=H, R2=OH
31: R1=OH, R2=H
4246 Current Medicinal Chemistry, 2009 Vol. 16, No. 32
Wu et al.
is twice as high as that of t-resveratrol and a platelet anti-
aggregant activity that is six times higher . More studies
have been carried out to search for more effective chemical
biological structures from natural plants. Chia et al used a
bioactivity-guided fractionation method, two coumarins:
minumicroline acetonide (33) and epimurpaniculol se-
necioate (34), were isolated from the leaves of Murraya om-
phalocarpa Hayata (Rutaceae) . The biological activity
research reported that compounds (33) showed significant
inhibition of arachidonic acid (AA)- and collagen- induced
platelet aggregation, and strong inhibition induced via plate-
let activating factor (PAF). In addition, compound (34) also
displayed significant inhibitory activity on collagen- and
AA- induced platelet aggregation, but not those potentiated
by PAF .
It has been noted that a large variety of possible substitu-
tions in the basic molecule may influence the structure-
related biological activities of coumarins . They act as
anti-oxidants, enzyme inhibitors and precursors of toxic sub-
stances. For monohydroxycoumarins, their anti-oxidant
properties have been related to radical-scavenging activity,
and inhibition of tyrosine kinases . But, accumulating data
of studies reveal that dihydroxycoumarins are better anti-
oxidants than monohydroxycoumarins and the OH groups
positioned near C6 and C7 in the coumarin skeleton play an
important role in the inhibition of the mushroom tyrosinase
. Coumarins derivatives (coumarin, 4-HC, 7-HC, es-
culetin, scopoletin, DHC, 4-methylesculetin, and 7-hydroxy-
4-methylcoumarin) were analysed for their anti-oxidant
properties and their ability to scavenge free radicals. The
results showed that esculetin was the most potent radical
scavenger, followed by 4-methylesculetin . The number
of hydroxyl groups on the coumarin ring structure correlates
with the ROS suppressor function. The structure-based mo-
lecular modeling revealed interactions between coumarins
and the molybdopterin region of xanthine oxidase (XO). The
carbonyl pointed toward the Arg880, and the ester O atom
formed hydrogen bonds with Thr1010. Esculetin, which
bears two hydroxyl moieties on its benzene rings, had the
highest affinity toward the binding site of XO, and this was
mainly due to the interaction of 6-hydroxyl with the E802
residue of XO . The chemical structure of scopoletin is
similar to that of esculetin except with methoxy moiety sub-
stituted for the 6-hydroxyl, which results in a diminished
potency of scopoletin to inhibit XO. This further enhances
the hypothesis that the H atom of the 6-hydroxyl plays a
more significant role than the O atom .
Although the anti-oxidant activity has been primarily at-
tributed to the presence of free hydroxyl groups, a significant
anti-oxidant effect has also been reported for compounds
where these groups are acetylated . A novel enzyme in
the microsomes of the liver catalyzed the transfer of acetyl
groups from acetylated polyphenols to certain receptor en-
zyme proteins which could putatively result in the modifica-
tion of their catalytic activities . Protein transacetylase
(TAase) was found to catalyze the transfer of the acetyl
group from DAMC (35) to GST. This results in the acetyla-
tion of several lysine residues in its active site and subse-
quent inhibition of the catalytic activity of GST . Twelve
acetoxy coumarins and dihydrocoumarins bearing a phenyl
ring and methyl group at C-4 were involved into the experi-
ments. The results of acetylation of GST by the the coumarin
derivatives by TAase showed that DAMC had the highest
catalytic activity, and that acetoxy 4-phenylcoumarins (36)
had significantly less activity . Similar results were ob-
tained when the TAase catalyzed activation of NADPH cy-
tochrome c reductase assay and AflatoxinB1 (AFB1)-DNA
binding inhibitory assay were performed with 4-phenyl-
coumarins and 4-methylcoumarins . These results con-
firmed the hypothesis that DAMC was found to modulate the
activities of enzymes including cytochrome P-450-linked
mixed-function-oxidase (MFO), NADPH cytochrome c re-
ductase and cytosolic GST when catalyzed by TAase .
To elucidate the structure activity relationship (SAR) of the
phenyl ring on the benzopyran nucleus, Kumar et al com-
pares the specificities of the acetylated coumarins, biscou-
marins, chromones, flavones/isoflavones and xanthones for
TAase activity. The results demonstrated that the presence of
the phenyl ring on the pyran nucleus of polyphenolic acetates
drastically reduces their specificity to TAase modification
The effects of coumarin anti-oxidants on tumor-
modulation also have been studied using carcinogens .
Structural insights into hydroxycoumarin-induced apoptosis
in U937 cells were studied by Riveiro et al. The results
showed that the presence of two adjacent phenolic hydroxyl
groups was the most important factor in terms of the struc-
ture activity relationship . It is known that GST induc-
tion can occur through different mechanisms, such as via the
xenobiotic response element (XRE) or the anti-oxidant re-
sponse element (ARE). Nuclear factor-erythroid 2-related
factor 2 (Nrf2) is a member of the cap’n’ collar family of
basic region leucine zipper (bZIP) transcription factor .
The ARE is a 41-bp element in the 5’-flanking region of the
rat GST Ya gene, that is positively regulated by Nrf2 .
Naturally occurring coumairns possess anti-carcinogenic
activities in part by inducing carcinogen- detoxifying en-
zymes GST and/or NAD(P)H quinine oxidoreductase
(NQO1) [102,103]. To determine whether citrus coumarins
induce hepatic GST and/or NQO1 via activ ation of Nrf2 and
ARE in HepG2 cell line. Prince et al found that auraptene
and imperatorin induced murine liver cytosolic GST activi-
ties via the Nrf2/ARE mechanism, whereas isopimpinellin,
although structurally similar, did not appear to activated
HepG2-ARE-GFP and the Nrf2 knockout mouse, which
might indicate that isopimpinellin induced GST and NQO1
via additional mechanism .
In addition, the presence of low concentrations of H2O2,
one of ROIs, was able to inhibit caspase-mediated apoptosis
The Structure and Pharmacological Functions of Coumarins Current Medicinal Chemistry, 2009 Vol. 16, No. 32 4247
in Jurkat cells . The mode of procaspase-9 activation in
order to inhibit apoptosis was probably through the reversi-
ble oxidation of sensitive cysteine residues by the presence
of H2O2 in an iron-dependent reaction . Coumarins are
known to have the ability to act as an anti-oxidant and a radi-
cal scavenger. As a result, coumarins might be related to
activation of caspase-9 and induction of cell apoptosis. But
this signal transduction mechanism remians unclear, and
now is under investigation by our research group.
Osthole (37) was tested in cyclooxygenase and 5-
lipoxygenase bioassays and turned out to be a moderate and
selective a 5-lipoxygenase inhibitor (IC50=36.2 μM) .
4-methylesculetin and 4-methyldaphnetin were tested on
ionophore-activated rat leukocytes (a cell system that express
both cyclooxygenase and 5-lipoxygenase pathways of ara-
chidonate metabolism) and were found to inhibit selectively
the proinflammatory 5-lipoxygenase enzyme with 5, 7-
dihydroxy-4-methylcoumarin demonstrating a higher po-
tency against cyclooxygenase . It is well known that
lipoxygenase (LOX) possess regiospecificity during interac-
tion with substrates and on this basis have been primarily
designed as arachidonate 5-, 12-, and 15-LOX. 5-LOX repre-
sents a dioxygenase that possesses two distinct enzymatic
activities leading to the formation of LTA4, which is con-
verted to 5-hydroxyeicosatetraenoic acid (5-HETE) or five
lipoxygenase activating protein (FLAP).
Modeling and sequence comparisons of the human 12-
and 15-LOX has led to suggestions as to which residues are
required for determination of the positional specificity .
Few studies have presented the direct binding data of LOX
enzyme to the inhibitors, and details of their interactions
remain unclear. Using the crystalline structure of rabbit
15-LOX, it was noted that the base of the boot shaped sub-
strate binding pocket wad lined by the side chains of Phe353,
Ile418, Met419, and Ile593 and the volume of the pocket
could be important for positional specificity. It is predicted
that 12-LOX has a slightly larger substrate binding pocket
compared to 15-LOX, whereas the pocket of 5-LOX is pre-
dicted to be 20% larger . Based on the crystallographic
data of rabbit 15-LOX, Du et al (2006) investigated the bind-
ing of human 5-LOX with its inhibitor, including esculetin,
by SPR technology correlating with molecular docking simu-
lation and found that the inhibitors should share some analo-
gous features: a polar head and tail interacting with the hy-
drophilic portion of 5-LOX through hydrogen bonds or elec-
trostatic interactions, and a hydrophobic body stretching into
the large hydrophobic channel of 5-LOX to form strong hy-
drophobic interactions with its surrounding lipophilic resi-
dues . Accumulating evidences suggest that the 5-LOX
pathway has profound influence on the development and
progression of human cancers . The 5-LOX pathway
interacts with multiple intracellular signaling pathways that
control cancer cell proliferation . Experimental data
reveal that 12-LOX is involved in both cancer cell prolifera-
tion and survival . Esculetin can selectively inhibit
LOXs with different IC50. In platelet, esculetin inhibit 12-
LOX with IC50=0.65 μM . Whereas esculetin inhibits
the formation of 5-HETE with IC50= 1.46mM in polymor-
phonuclear leukocytes, although more strongly than HHT
(IC50= 57.3mM) . The roles of 15-LOX in cancer de-
velopment are unclear. However, esculetin can also inhibit
the formation of 15-HETE from 15-LOX.
On investigation of specific products of the LOX path-
way mediating the autoregulatory effect of glucose and glu-
cose transport in vascularsmoothmuscle cells (VSMC) and
vascularendothelial cells (VEC), esculetin (100 μM) was
found to inhibit the formation of 12- and 15-HETE and de-
crease the productions to 23.0% and? 37.7%, respectively
. These indicate that esculetin is the most potent in
blocking 12-LOX. Further insight into structure activity rela-
tionship, the inhibitory potency on LOX is not related to the
oxidation potential of the compound . Esculin, glucosi-
dation at one of the hydroxy group of esculetin, decreases the
inhibitory potency markedly with IC50=290 μM. 7-HC, a
metabolite of coumarin, has the ability to reduce edema in
the rat paw carrageenan test. It was also shown to inhibit rat
platelet lipoxygenase (IC50=502 μM) and prostaglandin syn-
thesis . However, without hydroxyl in the position of
C6 and C7, coumarin and 4-HC had no inhibitory effect on
either enzyme at concentrations up to 1mM . The effect
of daphnetin and fraxetin on the formation of 5-HETE and
the cyclooxygenase product (12-hydroxy-5,8,10-heptade-
catrienoic acid (HHT)) in polymorphonuclear leukocytes
a: R1=H, R=2-CO2Ac
b: R1=H, R=2-CO2Me
c: R1=H, R=2-COOH
d: R1=6-OMe, R=2-COOH
e: R1=8-OMe, R=2-COOH
f: R1=6-NO2, R=2-COOH
g: R1=6-Cl, R=2-COOH
h: R1=8-allyl, R=2-COOH
4248 Current Medicinal Chemistry, 2009 Vol. 16, No. 32
Wu et al.
were studied . The results showed that daphnetin and
fraxetin inhibit the formation of 5-HETE more strongly than
HHT; the concentrations of IC50 were, respectively, 6.90mM,
2.57mM and 139.0mM, 532.5mM. In addition, scopoletin
were also show to inhibit the formation of 5-HETE and
HHT, but less strongly . Therefore, that hydroxylation
at C6 is very important for esculetin to inhibit LOX.
Some coumarin derivatives with substitutions at position
7, compounds (38), (39), (40) and (41) were subjected to the
induced carrageenan paw edema test to analyse their anti-
inflammatory activity, and the results obtained showed that
they possessed significant protection (55.1%, 58.5%, 54.0%
and 54.7%, respectively). Some N-Aryl substituted 3-
carboxamidocoumarins (42) had been synthesized through a
Knoevenangel condensation of nitriles with salicylaldehyde
with salicylaldehydes in the presence of piperidine in etha-
nol. These coumarin derivatives were found to be potent
anti-inflammatory agents. In carrageenan-induced rat paw
edema assays, compounds (42b), (42g) and (42h) were
found most active with 54±6.5%, 51±5.05%, 48±6.51% and
47±7.13% inhibition respectively (at doses of 10 mg/kg p.o.;
piroxicam control showed 57±6.61% inhibition). In acetic
acid peritonitis tests, the most active compounds (42a) and
(42c) showed 42±7.20%, 40±6.43% and 39±5.09% inhibi-
tion (at doses of 10 mg/kg p.o., piroxicam revealed a protec-
tion of 29±7.24%). All tested compounds were essentially
non-toxic at the highest dose graded .
Both nitric oxide (NO) and prostaglandin E2 (PGE2), and
their associated enzymes, nitric oxide synthase (NOS) and
Cyclooxygenase (COX), are involved in the development of
inflammation. Sixty-three naturally occurring oxycoumairns
were screened and four 5,7-dimethoxycoumarins were se-
lected to show potent inhibitory effects on iNOS protein ex-
pression and NO generation. It was suggested that the
methoxyl group on C5 and C7 and the short alkyl chain (1-5
carbons) on C6 might be essential for the potent activities.
These compounds also showed inhibitory effects on nitric
oxide generation and mRNA expression of inflammatory
mediators, namely, iNOS and COX-2 . It has been re-
ported that scopoletin (1–50 μg/ml) inhibits the release of
PGE2, TNF?, IL-1? and IL-6 and suppresses expression of
COX-2, but not COX-1 protein, in a concentration-
dependent manner in RAW 264.7 cells .
obtained from the methanol (50%) extraction of the Ruta
graveolens L. plant, was observed to inhibit both the protein
and mRNA expression of iNOS and IL-1? in lipopolysaccha-
ride (LPS) challenged macrophages, and to block the LPS-
induced activation of nuclear factor-?B (NF-?B) through the
prevention of inhibitor-?B degradation . This com-
pound also showed anti-oxidant properties and at a dose of
40mg/kg, and could inhibit iNOS and IL-1? gene expres-
sion significantly in an endotoxin-induced inflammatory
model of BALB/c mice .
When studying the relationship between the structure and
the activities of coumarin derivatives, such as TNF? inhibi-
tors, Cheng et al found that substitution at position C-6 of
the coumarin ring system most dramatically influenced
TNF? inhibitory activity . The 6-halo coumarin com-
pounds (43) were 20-30 times more potent than the corre-
sponding nonsubstituted counterpart. Alkyl groups, except a
methyl group, at this position tended to decrease the activi-
ties. No clear trend was observed for any electronic effects of
the substitutuions. Electron withdrawing groups such as
CHO, CN, NO2, and COOH either improved or diminished
the TNF ? inhibitory activities. Electron donating groups like
MeO increased activity by three-fold, similar to the CN
group. A C-8 methyl derivative is 25% less potent than the
corresponding C-6 derivative. Similarly, a methoxy group at
C-5 position completely abolished the TNF? inhibitory ac-
tivity , (Table 3).
One of the more promising approaches to discover in-
hibitors of TNF? is the inhibition of a zinc containing metal-
loproteinase, TNF? converting enzyme (TACE), which con-
verts membrane bound pro-TNF? to mature and soluble
TNF?. A series of couamrin-base analogues (44) were pre-
pared, with structural similarites to gelasatin hydroxamates
(45). These showed good binding to the TACE binding in
the docking model . Similarly, methyl and methoxyl
substituted analogues had comparable activity, and were
more active than other analogues for in vitro TACE enzyme
inhibition. Larger substitutions, like the tert-butyl group on
the chromene core decreased the inhibitory activities. For the
inhibitory activities of MMP-2 and MMP-9, these com-
pounds paralleled TACE activity. Furthermore, 6-position
methyl or methoxyl substituted analogues (46) were pre-
pared. The analogues (46a) and (46b) showed IC50 at 36nM
and 3nM, and 220nM and 320nM for TACE enzyme inhibi-
tion and TNF? inhibition, respectively. Allyl (46c) and ben-
zylated (46d) analogues showed similar results at a range of
30nM and 5nM in the same assay .
a: R1=6-OMe, R2=Me
b: R1=6-Me, R2=Me
c: R1=6-Me, R2=allyl
d: R1=6-Me, R2=benzyl
The Structure and Pharmacological Functions of Coumarins Current Medicinal Chemistry, 2009 Vol. 16, No. 32 4249
In addition, inflammation is well known as an important
factor in the development of diabetes; since coumarin sup-
presses the phosphorylation of Akt/PKB as a mechanism
inhibiting inflammation, it may be hypothesized that this
could be a factor in insulin resistance . On the other
hand, Hu and co-workers demonstrated that benzopyran de-
rivatives (oxycoumarin derivatives) activate peroxisome
proliferator-activated receptor-c (PPAR-c) and exert a bene-
ficial effect on insulin action on glucose uptake and lipid
metabolism. It was shown that, as a mechanism accelerating
insulin-stimulated glucose uptake, oxycoumarin increased
the phosphorylation of Akt and p38 MAP kinase in skeletal
muscle . It should be noted that not all oxycoumarins
derivatives could suppress the level of LPS-induced iNOS,
and differences in the structures of oxycoumarins were
associated with this contradiction .
The indiscriminate use of antibiotics has led to many bac-
terial strains becoming drug resistant. Development of new
and effective antibiotic compounds to target resistant micro-
organisms has become critically important and new the
products in development should alleviate these concerns.
Glycosylation of many natural products is required for the
associated antibiotic and/or anti-tumor activities. Novobiocin
(47), clorobiocin (48), and coumermycin A1 (49) are all
members of the coumarin family of antibiotics and are de-
rived from various Streptomyces species. Each compound
contains an individual noviosyl sugar component that im-
parts the functionality essential for biological activity. This
family of antibiotics exerts its anti-bacterial activity via the
inhibition of the type II DNA topoisomerase, DNA gyrase.
Removal of the carbamoyl group from novobiocin or its
transference to the 2-hydroxy group of novobiose, leads to a
complete loss of activity . However, replacement of the
carbamoyl group with a 5-methyl-2-pyrrolylcarbamoyl group
(which is present in coumermycin), leads to >10-fold in-
creases in both anti-bacterial activity and in vitro activity
against DNA gyrase. The aminocoumarin antibiotics novo-
biocin and clorobiocin consist of a 3-amino-4, 7-
dihydroxycoumarin (ADHC) moiety flanked on one side by
L-noviose and on the other side by a 3-dimethylallyl-4- hy-
droxybenzoyl (DMAHB) moiety. Both ADHC and L-
noviose are essential for anti-bacterial activity and that the
The Relationships Between the Structure and the Function of Coumarins
Compounds Structure Activity Relationships (SARs) Reference
A free 7-OH was important for anti-bacterial activity [Sardari et al., 133]
A methoxy at C-7 and, where present, an OH group at either the C-6 or C-8 position
was invariably effective against a broad spectrum of bacteria.
[Kayser et al., 131]
The lipophilic character and a planar structure are requirements for high anti-bacterial
[Kayser et al., 131]
3-acetylamino coumarin derivatives show antibacterial activity which through an
ascending increase in the size of the acyl group display an increasing range of
[Hishmat et al., 128]
A free 6-OH was essential for anti-fungal activity. [Sardari et al., 133]
SARs of DCK and Calanolides have been reviewed and summarized [Yu et al., 145]
Modeling and docking: carbonyl pointed toward the Arg880, and the ester O atom
formed hydrogen bonds with Thr1010 in region of XO
[Masamoto et al., 94]
Methoxyl group on C5 and C7 and the short alkyl chain (1-5 carbons) on C6 might be
essential for the potent inhibiting activities of NOS and COX
[Nakamura et al., 119]
No clear trend was observed for any electronic effects of the substitutuions to influence
TNF? inhibitory activity. However, substitution at position C-6 of the coumarin ring
system most dramatically influenced TNF? inhibitory activity.
[Cheng et al., 121]
The presence of a strong electron-withdrawing group at the 3-position facilitates the
nucleophilic attack by the serine hydroxyl residue in protease
[Béchet et al., 157]
Acetylation of several lysine residues in its active site of GST, but phenyl presences in
C4 position will drastically reduce its specificity
[Raj et al., 98],
[Kumar et al., 99]
Modeling and docking: 6-hydroxyl interacts with the E802 residue of XO [Masamoto et al., 94] Esculetin
The hydroxylation at C6 is important for high selectivity of 12-LOX [Hardt et al., 116]
Introduction of a hydroxyl, methoxyl or benzamido group in position 3 of coumarin
decreases the anticoagulant activity; but introduction of a 8-acetyl group into 7-
hydroxy-4-methlcoumarin increases the anti-coagulant activity
[Arora et al., 88]
Methoxy-group at position-7 and the 3-methyl-2-butenyl- group at position-8 are essen-
tial to lower plasma ALT in hepatitis
[Okamoto et al., 137]
4250 Current Medicinal Chemistry, 2009 Vol. 16, No. 32
Wu et al.
substituents attached to these fragments have a significant
impact on their bioactivities. X-ray crystallographic exami-
nation of antibiotic-enzyme complexes showed that the
ADHC and L-noviose moieties are each involved in antibi-
otic binding to the B subunit of DNA gyrase .
The toxicity of novobiocin in eukaryotes, as well as its
poor activity towards most gram-negative bacterial patho-
gens, and the proclivity of staphylococci to develop endoge-
nous resistance to aminocoumarins during therapy, led
pharmaceutical companies to direct their anti-bacterial drug
development resources towards other antibiotic classes.
However, the emergence of antibiotic resistant organisms
has resulted in a reevaluation of the old antibiotic classes.
For example, analysis of the structure activity relationship of
clorobiocin found that modifications of the 3-dimethylallyl-
4- hydroxybenzoyl moiety reduced biological activity .
The highest activities were shown by compounds containing
a hydrophobic alkyl group at position 3 of the 4-
hydroxybenzoyl moiety. Polar groups in this side chain, es-
pecially amide, strongly reduced anti-bacterial activity and
replacement of the alkyl side chain with a halogen atom or a
methoxy group at the same position markedly reduced the
activity. Transfer of the pyrrole carboxylic acid moiety from
O-3?to O-2?of L-noviose only moderately reduced activ-
ity, whereas the complete absence of the pyrrole carboxylic
acid moiety led to a complete loss of activity. Desclorobiocin
derivatives lacking the chlorine atom at C-8 of the 3-amino-
4,7-dihydroxycoumarin moiety also showed low activity.
Lack of a methyl group at O-4?of L-noviose resulted in a
completely inactive compound .
3-acetylamino coumarin derivatives was reported to show
anti-bacterial activity which through an ascending increase in
the size of the acyl group display an increasing range of anti-
bacterial action . Introduction of a bromine atom in to
the side chain, i.e. 6-bromo-3-(w-bromoacetyl coumarin,
maintained its anti-bacterial potency, while the further modi-
fied 6,8-dibromo-3-(w-bromoacetyl) coumarin increased
further its anti-bacterial activity. The dichloroacetamido moi-
ety has also been inserted in to the allylic position of the
pyran ring of coumarin, and the resulting compound (50)
have moderate activity against B. cirroflagellosus, E. coli, A.
niger, and C. albicans . New 3-acylamido coumarins
derived from 3-amino-5-substituted isoxazoles (51) have
been designed and synthesized for possible anti-microbial
agents . Promisingly, Radulovic et al screened a new
3,4-annelated coumarin derivative (52), which showed a
greater antibiotic activity than both Ampicillin and Nystatin,
and four times as much anti-oxidant activity as ?-tocopherol
In vitro structure activity relationship studies of coumar-
ins have shown that the lipophilic character and a planar
structure are requirements for high antibacterial activities
. Anti-microbial potency may be due to passive diffu-
sion facilitated by both the lipophilic character and the planar
molecular structure. Increased lipophilicity of compounds
may be associated with easier penetration into Gram-positive
bacteria, but other factors such as shape also have to be con-
sidered. It has been suggested that simply an aromatic
substitution and the avoidance of bulky side-chains could aid
in penetration through bacterial cell walls .
It has also been reported that a free 6-OH of the coumarin
nucleus was essential for anti-fungal activity, while a free 7-
OH was important for anti-bacterial activity  (Table 3).
The Structure and Pharmacological Functions of Coumarins Current Medicinal Chemistry, 2009 Vol. 16, No. 32 4251
Angelicin (53), a naturally occurring furanocoumarin, which
showed anti-fungal activity, was considered to be a lead
structure for a group of synthetic coumarins. Simple long
chained hydrocarbons are connected to the furanocoumarin
skeleton of angelicin, and the anti-microbial activities are
more efficacious than other furanocoumarins, protection of
6-OH by groups that change the electronic contribution of
oxygen 6 to the ring, or change the polarity of the functional
groups to a favored pattern improves the anti-fungal activity
. Studies have shown that a free 6-OH moiety in the
coumarin nucleus was a necessity to combat bacteria .
Systemic analysis of the structural activity relationships have
revealed that coumarins with a methoxy function at C-7 and,
where present, an OH group at either the C-6 or C-8 position
were invariably effective against a broad spectrum bacteria.
The presence of an aromatic dimethoxy arrangement was
shown to be favorable against those microorganisms which
required special growth factors (beta-hemolytic streptococ-
cus, streptococcus pneumoniae and haemophilus influenzae
A combination of these structural features, two methoxy
functions and at least one additional phenolic group, as re-
flected by the highly oxygenated coumarins, has led to some
promising candidates with a broad-spectrum of anti-bacterial
activity to be identified . The development of azoles
has revolutionized the treatment of many fungal infections,
but still treatment of many of them necessitates application
of the highly toxic drug, amphotericin B or a combination
thereof. Emergence of new resistant species of fungi, in addi-
tion to the poor safety and pharmacokinetics profile, present
challenges to clinicians in the best way to handle the fungal
infections. Fifty-three new
methyl-7-substituted coumarins (54) were synthesized and
their anti-fungal activity investigated. Their anti-fungal ac-
tivities were measured against a phytopathologic fungus,
Botrytis cinerea . Compounds with a substituted ben-
zoyloxy, benzoyloxyethoxy, methylbenzoylaminoethoxy, or
benzoylaminophenoxy group at the 7-position had an inhibi-
tory effect (MIC: 50 ppm) on the germination of spores in an
in vitro screening system. It also indicated that modification
of 7-hydroxy group was effective in generating anti-fungal
activity and suggested that length of substitutents and the
number of benzene rings greatly affected their anti-fungal
activity . Efforts to modify coumarins with a hydroxyl
group in the benzene ring have resulted in an increase in
anti-fungal activity. A series of coumarin and pyranocou-
marin analogues were evalutated in vitro for antiviral effi-
cacy against measles virus (MV). The structural activity rela-
tionship study showed that the O-substituted 5,7-
dihydroxycoumarins but not C-substituted or unsubstituted
were generally active against MV, and that the free hydrox-
yls in benzodipyranone (55) and benzotripyranone (56) were
essential for anti-MV activity .
Counteracting the effects of Hepatitis C Virus (HCV)
through the use of coumarins has proved challenging as only
a small number, primarily osthole, are capable of inhibiting
HCV replication and/or proliferation, this counteracting the
progression of hepatitis C into hepatocarcinoma . The
action of osthole causes a strong reduction of plasma alanine
aminotransferase and also inhibits caspase-3 activation
. However, osthole exhibits low solubility in water and
this property may lead to a decrease in the anti-hepatitis in-
hibitory effect upon oral administration. In a Con A-induced
hepatitis mouse model, intraperitoneally administered ost-
hole (100 mg/kg dose) resulted in 85% inhibition of Con A-
induced elevation of plasma alanine aminotransferase (ALT).
However, oral administration of osthole at a 100 mg/kg dose
caused only a 38% inhibition of Con A-induced elevation of
plasma ALT . Osthenol, an osthole derivative with sub-
stitution of a 7-methoxy group for 7-hydroxy of osthole,
caused 32% inhibition of Con A-induced elevation of plasma
ALT at the dose of 100 mg/kg (i.p.), whereas 7-HC caused
only 9% inhibition  (Table 3). These indicated that
methoxy-group at position-7 and the 3-methyl-2-butenyl-
group at position-8 are essential to lower plasma ALT in
hepatitis. Okamoto et al has screened 28 synthetic deriva-
tives of osthole and found that most of them increased pro-
tective abilities. Three compounds (57), (58), (59) exhibited
68.7 %, 62.5% and 88.3% inhibition of Con A-induced ele-
vation of plasma ALT at dose of 100 mg/kg respectively
. These chemicals could contribute to the development
of hepatoprotective drugs for various types of liver diseases,
including viral hepatitis. Some 7-propyloxy derivatives (60)
showed structural similarity to osthole and were endowed
with inhibitory properties against both HCV and Hepatitis C-
related virus by targetting HCV surrogate viruses (BVDV)
The HIV/AIDS pandemic is a serious threat to health and
development of mankind, and searching for effective anti-
HIV agents remains ongoing. Considerable progress has
been made in recent years in the field of drug development
against HIV. Anti-HIV coumarins have been identified to
inhibit viral adsorption, reverse transcription, protease inhi-
bition and integration in the HIV replication cycle .
Warfarin and other 4-HC derivatives are the first genera-
tion of HIV-PR inhibitors. Inspired by the structure, 3-
phenyl-, 3-benzyl-, 3-phenoxy-, 3-benzenesulfonyl-, and 3-
(7-coumairnyloxy)-4-hydroxycoumarin derivatives had been
screened. These results revealed the importance of substitu-
ents at position 5 and 7 of the coumarin ring on the inhibi-
tory potency of the HIV-1-PR . Position 5 and 3 were
4252 Current Medicinal Chemistry, 2009 Vol. 16, No. 32
Wu et al.
important for not allowing both the introduction of a hy-
droxyl group and to allow direct fixation of an aromatic
group. NF-?B and Tat cooperate in driving HIV replication
from the state of latency. Inhibition of the activity of these
critical proteins will result in an effective blocking of viral
replication. Eleven natural 4-phenylcoumarins isolated from
Marila pluricostata were screened and found to show the
inhibition of NF-?B and Tat . Several disubstituted
3',4'-di-O-(s)-camphanoyl-(+)-cis-khellactone (DCK) deriva-
tives have been synthesized and examined for inhibition of
HIV-1 replication in H9 lymphocytes . Of the ten syn-
thesized 5-methoxy-4-methyl DCK compounds, (61) was the
most active derivative and outperforms the lead compound
DCK in the same assay .
SAR of DCK has been comprehensive studied and re-
viewed by Yu et al (2003) : (1) Stereochemistry at the
3’ and 4’ position should be R-configured. (2) The volume,
size, and shape of the camphanoyl group are more important
than the absolute configuration of its chiral carbon. How-
ever, (-)-camphanoyl analogs are most potent. (3) A planar
coumarin system is probably an essential fearture for potent
anti-HIV activity. Steric compression between C4 and C5
substituents can reduce the overall planarity and, thus reso-
nance of the coumarin system, resulting in decreased or
completely lost activity. (4) Methyl or other aliphatic substi-
tutions on the coumarin nucleus are favorable for anti-HIV
activity, whereas aromatic substituents are not. (5) Thio and
lactam 4-methyl-DCKs retain activity. In the CEM-SS cell
lines, the thio analog is more potent 4-methyl-DCK. (6) 3-
Hydroxymethyl and 3-dibromomethyl analogs retain po-
tency, but 3-carboxyl and 3-amino analogs do not. Thus,
polar but not negatively or positively charged substitutents
can be tolerated. Chen et al reported that the position of C6
might be crucial for potency against HIV replication and
sensitive to modification. A tert-butyl group at C6 position
showed no anti-HIV-1 activity. In addition, two methyl
groups at C8 position might be favorable for anti-HIV activ-
ity . In a continuing effort to identify the pharmacopho-
res in this class of potent anti-HIV agents, three 9,10-di-O-
(7-carbon-DCK) analogs, which replaced the oxygen in the
C ring of DCK with a methylene group, were synthesized
and showed to be potential HIV-1 inhibitors .
Two diastereomeric tetracyclic coumarins Calanolide A1
(62) and Calanolide B2 (ostatolide) (63), isolated from Calo-
phyllum lanigerum were found to be HIV-1 reverse tran-
scriptase inhibitors . They utilize a novel mechanistic
pathway that inhibited RT in two different template primer
systems, primed ribosomal RNA template and homopolym-
eric poly rA-oligodT12–18 template/primer . Another
group of tetracyclic pyranocoumarins, the inophyllums iso-
lated from the genus Calophyllum ionophyllum P, are capa-
ble of potent inhibition of HIV-1 RT, though the most active
inophyllums (64) and (65) have slightly different stereo-
chemistry to the equally potent Calanolides . Structure
activity relationship studies show that bulky substituents are
required at C4 position, both calanolides and inophyllums
require methyls at C10 and C11 of the chromanol ring to be
trans-diaxial, and both require a hydrogen bond acceptor at
C12. In case of calanolides, the C12 hydroxyl should be S
configured, or carbonyl can be present. C12 hydroxyl of ino-
phyllums can be either S or R configured, but cannot be a
The transcription factor Sp1 is a member of a multigene
family that binds DNA GC boxes and related motifs through
The Structure and Pharmacological Functions of Coumarins Current Medicinal Chemistry, 2009 Vol. 16, No. 32 4253
COOH-terminal zinc finger motifs. Imperatorin showed in-
hibitory activity of Sp1 in HIV by inhibiting both PMA (a
known activator of the ERK and DNA-dependent protein
kinase pathways) and Tat-induced Sp1-dependent HIV-1-
LTR transcription. It can also inhibit phorbol 12-myristate
13-acetate-induced transcriptional activity of the Gal4-Sp1
fusion protein, as well as strongly inhibiting cyclin D1 ex-
pression and arresting HeLa cells in the G1 phase of the cell
cycle . Mesuol (66) and isomesuol (67), two 4-phenyl
coumarins, isolated from leaves and stems of Marila pluri-
costata, were demonstrated to combat HIV by inhibiting the
transcriptional activity of the HIV-1-LTR promoter through
a signaling pathway that involves the phosphorylation of the
p65 subunit of the NF-kB transcription factor .
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
Since coumarins have been approved for used as a thera-
peutic drug, concerns have been raised as to its side effects
regarding toxicity, metabolism and pharmacokinetics. The
toxicology of coumarin began to receive intensive attention
after it was revealed that coumarins had marked species dif-
ferences in both metabolism and hepatotoxicity . There
are important, quantitative differences between species in the
routes of elimination of coumarin metabolites. After oral
administration 83% of the dose (200mg/kg) is excreted in in
the human urine within 24h, primarily as 7-HC, which indi-
cates that there is little or no biliary excretion of coumarin
metabolites in humans. 7-HC and its glucuronide and sulfate
conjugates are non-toxic and represent 40-97% of total uri-
nary metabolites.In rat, only 35% is found in the urine given
an equivalent dose . The significance of the 7-
hydroxylation pathway is that it appears inversely related to
species differences in hepatotoxicity. Epoxidation of the 3,4-
double bond is involved in the coumarin metabolic pathway
in the rats. Its role as a liver toxicant has been demonstrated
using DHC, which shows no signs of toxicity in the rat liver
in vivo in contrast to coumarins .
Coumarin 3,4-epoxide is detoxified via GSH conjugation
and this reaction is mediated non-enzymatically and enzy-
matically by GST . To obtain insight in whether de-
creased 7-HC formation would result in increased liver lev-
els of the hepatotoxic o-HPA, Reitjens et al (2008) built a
physiologically based biokinetic (PBBK) model for both rat
and man. The results showed that even when 7-
hydroxylation was deficient, the chances on formation of the
hepatotoxic o-HPA metabolite would be significantly lower
in the liver of humans than those expected in the liver of rats
. Thus, the cytotoxicity of coumarin is both metabo-
lism- and species-dependent, the rat may not be a suitable
model for evaluating the pharmacological hazards of cou-
marin in humans .
The search for new drugs requires a deep understanding
of the molecular basis of drug action, and is necessary for
elucidating the mechanisms of action involved with respect
to understanding the relationship between structure and ac-
tivity. Halomethyldihydrocoumarin was the first suicide sub-
strate of a serine protease . Based on halomethyldihy-
drocoumarin, a new series of coumarin-type inhibitors, char-
acterized by an alkyl, aryl ester, thioester, amide or ketone
function in position 3 and electrophilic moiety in the 6-
position, were synthesized [158-160]. The presence of a
strong electron-withdrawing group at the 3-position is ex-
4254 Current Medicinal Chemistry, 2009 Vol. 16, No. 32
Wu et al.
pected to increase the electrophilicity of the lactone group,
thus facilitating the nucleophilic attack by the serine hy-
droxyl residue. It appeared that esters in position 3 of the 6-
chloromethylcoumarin had more potent capacity to inacti-
vate ?-chymotrypsin (?-CT) and human leukocyte elastase
(HLE) than amides. Moreover, the presence of an aromatic
group (aryl?alkyl?cycloalkyl) strongly enhanced the in-
hibitory potency when the aryl side-chain was directly linked
to the oxycarbonyl moiety [158-159]. The meta-
chlorophenyl derivative appeared to be one of the most po-
tent ?-CT inactivators, and among the phenyl derivatives,
the most efficient compounds possess a dichlorophenyl ester
in the position 3. However, the presence of a substituent on
the ‘para’ position relative to the oxygen atom of the exo-
cyclic ester function led to compounds with a lower inhibi-
tory potency against ?-CT and HLE. To evaluate the impor-
tance of a latent alkylating function of position 6, the sub-
stituent in this position was modulated for ?-CT, the re-
placement of the chloromethyl moiety then led to the com-
plete loss of inhibitory potency .
Scopoletin, derived from P. sabulosa, produced a dose-
related anti-nociception in the acetic acid-induced model of
visceral pain in mice. Two structural derivatives of sco-
poletin, acetylscopoletin (68a) and benzoylscopoletin (68b)
also exhibited antinociceptive activity. Benzoylscopoletin
decreased the acetic acid-induced abdominal constriction 2-fold
more than the original molecule. Structure activity relation-
ship studies showed that the addition of a benzoyl group
might increase the absorption of the compound or facilitate
its binding to the active site in order to increase antinocicep-
tive properties. The addition of an acetyl group, as in ace-
tylscopoletin, decreases the anti-nociceptive properties of the
compound by approximately 26-fold compared to the origi-
nal coumarin . Sets of coumarinyl ethers having chro-
mone, benzofuranyl and 4-hydroxy coumarins were prepared
and tested for analgesic and anti-inflammatory activity. The
results showed that these heterocyclic derivatives exhibited
both anti-inflammatory and analgesic activity. The benzo-
furanyl ethers of coumarins were found to be most active
amongst all the compounds. The Chloro and methoxy sub-
stitution in coumarin ring was found to increase activity
. Three major coumarins, edgeworin (EdN) (69), edge-
worosides A and C (EdeA (70) and EdeC (71)), isolated
from Edgeworthia chrysantha L., were evaluated for both
anti-inflammatory and analgesic activities. The results
showed that EdN and EdeA had anti-inflammatory (p?0.05-
0.01) and analgesic (p?0.001) effects, while EdeC showed
only an analgesic effect .
Bergapten was also reported to exhibit significant anti-
convulsant activity . Umbelliferone extracted from the
root bark of Adina cordifolia exhibited a strong anti-amoebic
activity, and its derivatives, thiosemicarbazones, when sub-
stituted with adamantamine, p-benzyl piperidine and N-
methyl benzyl amine showed an even greater anti-amoebic
activity . In addition, coumarins with weak estrogenic
activity have been explored for potential medical interest.
Previous work showed that the derivatives of these com-
pounds could be used as therapeutic agents to prevent the
emergence of adverse effects associated with menopause,
such as osteoporosis, cardiovascular risk (atherosclerosis)
and cognitive deficiency .
Coumarins have many different structures, due to the
various types of substitutions at their core, which can in turn
influence their biological activity. They constitute an impor-
tant class of pharmacological agents possessing a range of
different physiological activities including anti-cancer, anti-
leukemia, anti-inflammation, anti-HIV, anti-coagulant, anti-
bacterial, analgesic and comparative immunomodulation.
Of great interest is the possibility that this class of mole-
cules could be a source of drugs for the therapy of several
diseases, including cancer, mycosis fungoides. To fully de-
scribe the recent progress in structure modification and the
structure activity relationship is not an easy task. Neverthe-
less, it is useful to build up some correlations with the data
available in order to help researchers in discovering and de-
Bergapten OCH3 H
Isopimpinellin OCH3 OCH3
Xanthotoxin H OCH3
The Structure and Pharmacological Functions of Coumarins Current Medicinal Chemistry, 2009 Vol. 16, No. 32 4255
veloping new active compounds. In summary, the simple
chemical structure of the coumarins allows great potential to
clinically explore combinations of coumarin analogues with
other agents in an attempt to improve efficacy for improving
This work is supported by National High-tech Grant
Quanzhou City Science and Technology Grant 2007Z41 to
No. 2008AA02Z135 and
ADHC = 3-amino-4, 7-dihydroxycoumarin
AFB1 = AflatoxinB1
= alanine aminotransferase
= antioxidant response element
BVDV = HCV surrogate viruses
= basic region leucine zipper
= Cytochrome P450
DCK = 3',4'-di-O-(s)-camphanoyl-(+)-cis-
= 7, 8-dihydroxy-4- methylcoumarin
6,7-diHC = 6,7-dihydroxycoumarin
= 3-dimethylallyl-4- hydroxybenzoyl
= epidermal growth factor
ERK = extracellular-regulated kinase
= lipoxygenase activating protein
GST = glutathione S-transferase
HCV = Hepatitis C Virus
= 5-hydroxyeicosatetraenoic acid
= 12-hydroxy-5, 8, 10-heptadecatrienoic
= human leukocyte elastase
o- HPAA = o-hydroxyphenylacetic acid
= o-hydroxyphenyllactic acid
o- HPPA = o-hydroxyphenyl propionic acid
HUVEC = human umbilical vein endothelial cell
JNK = c-Jun N-terminal kinase
= Metastatic pigmented malignant mela-
= multidrug resistant
= Matrix Metalloproteinase
MV = measles virus
= non-small cell lung carcinoma
3,6,8-NO2-7-HC = 3,6,8-nitro-7-hydroxycoumarin
NOS = nitric oxide synthase
= 6-nitro-7- hydroxycoumarin
NQO1 = NAD(P)H quinine oxidoreductase
= 4-nitroquinoline 1-oxide
= Nuclear factor-erythroid 2-related factor
2OGD = 2-oxoglutarate-dependent dioxygenase
= platelet activating factor
= poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase
PBBK = physiologically based biokinetic
PPAR-c = peroxisome proliferator-activated recep-
QR = quinine reductase
= renal cell carcinoma
= reactive oxygen intermediates
ROS = reactive oxygen species
= stress-activated protein kinase
= structure activity relationship
TACE = TNF? converting enzyme
= vascularendothelial cells
VEGF = vascular endothelial growth factor
= vascularsmoothmuscle cells
= xanthine oxidase
XRE = xenobiotic response element
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Received: June 08, 2009
Revised: September 17, 2009 Accepted: September 18, 2009