Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1
Bull. Mens. Soc. Linn. Paris 1: 456 (1885).
Origin and geographic distribution
Strychnopsis thouarsii is endemic to Madagascar where it occurs from Antsiranana in the north to Toamasina in the centre and also in Toliara in the south.
A decoction of the leaves or root bark is drunk to treat liver problems, enlarged spleen, fever and malaria, sometimes as an adjuvant of chloroquine.
The root yields a bright yellow dye. The branches are used to make temporary huts in the forest.
From the leaves the bisbenzylisoquinoline alkaloid fangchinoline, the aporphine alkaloids isocorydine, liriotulipiferine, N-methylindcarpine and predicentrine, and the morphinan alkaloid sinoacutine were isolated. The roots have been shown to contain fangchinoline and the related tetrandrine. The stem bark yielded the morphinan alkaloid tazopsine.
In a test with several bisbenzylisoquinoline alkaloids, fangchinoline was the most active compound tested against chloroquine-resistant Plasmodium falciparum and against a multidrug-resistant lymphoblastic acute leukaemia cell line. Fangchinoline also has an antagonistic effect on the antinociceptive properties of morphine.
Tazopsine has shown strong activity against Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium yoelli. The semi-synthetic derivative N-cyclopentyl-tazopsine combines strong antiplasmodial activity with a lower toxicity. Because of its specific action against the liver form of the parasite, the risk of resistance developing is considered small.
Dioecious, small tree up to 15 m tall; bark dark brown and green mottled. Leaves simple and entire; petiole distinctly swollen and bent at apex; blade lanceolate, base cuneate, apex acute, with 3 prominent main veins from the base. Inflorescence an erect raceme, axillary or on older, leafless branches, often many together. Flowers unisexual, 3–4-merous; sepals greenish yellow to pink; petals translucent whitish to pink; male flowers with 5–6 stamens; female flowers with superior ovary, composed of free carpels. Fruit a cluster of 1–4, flattened globose, somewhat fleshy drupes, pale greenish yellow to whitish when ripe, each drupe 1-seeded. Seed horseshoe-shaped.
Strychnopsis comprises a single species.
Strychnopsis thouarsii occurs in humid and evergreen forest up to 1150 m altitude. Black lemurs eat the fruits and probably disperse the seeds.
Genetic resources and breeding
Strychnopsis thouarsii is widely used as a traditional medicine against malaria. Continued exploitation, combined with the reduction of the areas under rainforest in Madagascar, may become a threat to its genetic diversity. However, it is not yet included in the IUCN Red List.
If semi-synthetic tazopsine derivatives are admitted as antimalaria drugs, the pressure on natural stands of Strychnopsis thouarsii will increase even more. Research aiming at the development of propagation and management techniques is urgently needed.
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Correct citation of this article:
Oyen, L.P.A., 2008. Strychnopsis thouarsii Baill. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.