Artemisinin: A Versatile Weapon from Traditional Chinese Medicine

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Abstract

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) commands a unique position among all traditional medicines because of its 5000 years of tradition. Our own interest in natural products from TCM was triggered in the 1990s by sesquiterpene lactones of the artemisinin type from Artemisia annua L. The first description of the Chinese herb Artemisia annua L. (qinghao, Sweet wormwood) dates back to 168 B.C.E. Artemisinin (qinghaosu) was identified in 1972 as the active antimalarial constituent of Artemisia annua L. Artemisinin and its derivatives are used for the treatment of malaria. As shown in recent years, this class of compounds also shows activity against cancer cells, schistosomiasis, and certain viruses, i.e., human cytomegalovirus, hepatitis B anc C virus, and bovine viral diarrhea virus. Interestingly, the bioactivity of artemisinin seems to be even broader and also includes the inhibition of other protozaons such as Leishmania, Trypanosoma, and Toxoplasma gondii, as well as some trematodes, fungi, yeast, and bacteria. The analysis of its complete profile of pharmacological activities, as well as the elucidation of molecular modes of action and the performance of clinical trials, will further elucidate the full potential of this versatile weapon from nature against diseases.