Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1
Icon. anim. plant. 5: t. 25 (1779).
Origin and geographic distribution
Brucea antidysenterica occurs widely in tropical Africa, from Guinea and Nigeria east to Ethiopia and south to Angola, Malawi and Zambia.
As its name suggests, Brucea antidysenterica is of value in traditional medicine for the treatment of dysentery. The bark, fruit and roots are widely used against dysentery, as an anthelmintic and to treat fever. The bark, fruit, seeds, leaves and roots (sometimes boiled) are used as a remedy for diarrhoea, indigestion and stomach-ache. The leaves and roots are cooked with meat, or infused with milk (for children) to relieve asthma.
Wounds and skin complaints, such as those caused by leprosy and scrofula, are treated with ointments made from the leaves and twigs mixed with ghee or butter, or from the ripe fruits mixed with honey. Preparations of the roots are used on sores caused by sexually transmitted diseases, while the leaves and seeds are used to treat cancerous skin tumours. The fruits, leaves and twigs are also used in ethnoveterinary medicine on skin galls and sores, and the powdered leaves to relieve bloating and colic in cattle. The roots are used to treat rabies.
In Eritrea the wood is used as firewood and for roof construction.
The potent anticancer properties shown by extracts of Brucea antidysenterica have attracted much research attention in recent decades. Its bioactivity is attributed to the presence of quassinoid and canthin alkaloids.
Quassinoid compounds known as bruceolides, notably bruceantin and bruceanic acids, have been isolated from the leaves and stem bark. Bruceantin has shown anticancer activity against B16 melanoma, colon 38, and L1210 and P388 leukaemia in mice. However, in subsequent clinical trials no objective tumour regressions were observed and clinical development was terminated. Recently, the activity of bruceantin was studied with a number of leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma cell lines. Treatment of HL-60 and RPMI 8226 cell lines induced apoptosis involving the caspase and mitochondrial pathways. An in-vivo study using RPMI 8226 human-SCID xenografts demonstrated bruceantin-induced regression in early as well as advanced tumours; these responses were facilitated in the absence of overt toxicity. In addition to their antineoplastic activity, many bruceolides present in Brucea antidysenterica are highly effective against Entamoeba histolytica (IC50 of bruceantin = 0.018 μg/ml), and the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum (IC50 of bruceantin = 0.0008 μg/ml). Root extracts are reportedly active against Plasmodium gallinaceum in birds. Quassinoids from Brucea antidysenterica have exhibited weak anti-tuberculosis activity in vitro, whilst their anti-HIV potential is marred by high cytotoxicity.
Quassinoids are characteristic of the Simaroubaceae; they give the bark of Brucea antidysenterica a distinctive bitter taste.
Canthin alkaloids, present in the root bark of Brucea antidysenterica, have anticancer and antimicrobial properties. Some of them have been produced by cell suspension cultures of Brucea antidysenterica.
The fruit is bitter and reportedly toxic to livestock, especially sheep. It contains about 22% oil. A yellow dye in the fruit endocarp is non-soluble in water. Crystals of calcium oxalate are present in the bark, leaves and roots.
Monoecious shrub or small tree up to (7–)10(–15) m tall, sometimes branching from the base; bark grey to grey-brown with heart-shaped leaf-scars; young stems terete, with red-brown hairs. Leaves alternate, usually crowded at the end of younger twigs, 10–65 cm long, imparipinnately compound with 2–6 pairs of leaflets; stipules absent; petiole up to 15 cm long, with red-brown hairs; petiolules 1–9 mm long, up to 35 mm on terminal leaflet; leaflets narrowly oblong to narrowly ovate, 3–18 cm × 1.5–8 cm, base asymmetric and rounded, apex pointed, glossy dark to pale green, with red-brown hairs. Inflorescence an axillary, erect, red-brown hairy panicle 5–35 cm long, male and female flowers in separate inflorescences in compact clusters. Flowers unisexual, regular, (3–)4(–5)-merous; pedicel 1–8 mm long; sepals almost free, oblong to ovate, 2–3 mm × c. 1.5 mm, acute, pale green, red-brown hairy; petals oblong to ovate, 1.5–3 mm × 1–1.5 mm, pale green, red-brown hairy outside; male flowers with white to pale yellow stamens; female flowers with 4–5 carpels free or joined at base, c. 1–2.5 mm × 1–3 mm, sometimes hairy, stigmas c. 1 mm long, free, bent outwards in a cruciform arrangement. Fruit composed of 1–4 drupe-like ellipsoid mericarps, 9–14 mm × 6–8 mm, apex pointed, shiny pale green, ripening yellow-orange to dark red, each mericarp 1-seeded. Seeds ovoid, 8–9 mm × 5–6 mm, apex pointed, pale brown, with a large red to dark-brown spot.
Other botanical information
Brucea comprises 6 species in the Old World tropics, of which 5 occur naturally in tropical Africa. Brucea javanica (L.) Merr. has been introduced in DR Congo for its medicinal properties, which are similar to those of Brucea antidysenterica. It is found near villages and has become naturalized. The West African lowland species Brucea guineensis G.Don is reported to be threatened as a result of medicinal use. No details on its use are documented, but bruceantin and several other quassinoids have been isolated from the stem bark.
Growth and development
Vegetative growth, flowering and fruiting of Brucea antidysenterica continue throughout the year, even in the dry season.
Brucea antidysenterica occurs in montane forests, in forest margins and commonly in secondary vegetation. It is found at altitudes of 1000–3700 m, but most frequently at 1750–2500 m altitude.
Propagation and planting
Brucea antidysenterica can be readily propagated from seed and is sown on site. An alternative method of propagation is transplanting wildlings. Seed can be stored at room temperature for over a year.
Diseases and pests
Brucea antidysenterica has been recorded as a host plant of the Mediterranean fruit fly, a major pest of the fruit industry.
Brucea antidysenterica is widely distributed and no threats to its genetic variability are envisaged. If demand for the bark increases, it will be worthwhile closely monitoring its status and taking protective measures against non-sustainable use, including domestication.
Bruceantin and related compounds have shown very promising anti-cancer effects. Their potency warrants further investigation as promising candidates for drug development. Bruceantin has yet to be produced synthetically. Protocols have been established for the in-vitro production of bioactive alkaloids and quassinoids from cell suspension cultures of Brucea javanica and there is potential for similar protocols using Brucea antidysenterica.
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Sources of illustration
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Correct citation of this article:
Grace, O.M. & Fowler, D.G., 2008. Brucea antidysenterica J.F.Mill. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
Redrawn and adapted by Iskak Syamsudin
part of male inflorescence