Phytochemistry Reviews

, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 229–244 | Cite as

Lichens: a promising source of antibiotic and anticancer drugs



Lichens are symbiotic associations between fungi and a photosynthetic alga and/or cyanobacteria. Lichenized fungi have been found to produce a wide array of secondary metabolites, most of which are unique to the lichenized condition. These secondary metabolites have shown an impressive range of biological activities including antibiotics, antifungal, anti-HIV, anticancer, anti-protozoan, etc. This review focuses primarily on the antibiotic and anticancer properties of lichen secondary chemicals. We have reviewed various publications related to antibiotic and anticancer drug therapies emphasizing results about specific lichens and/or lichen compounds, which microbes or cancer cells were involved and the main findings of each study. We found that crude lichen extracts and various isolated lichen compounds often demonstrate significant inhibitory activity against various pathogenic bacteria and cancer cell lines at very low concentrations. There were no studies examining the specific mechanism of action against pathogenic bacteria; however, we did find a limited number of studies where the mechanism of action against cancer cell lines had been explored. The molecular mechanism of cell death by lichen compounds includes cell cycle arrest, apoptosis, necrosis, and inhibition of angiogenesis. Although lichens are a reservoir for various biologically active compounds, only a limited number have been tested for their biological significance. There is clearly an urgent need for expanding research in this area of study, including in depth studies of those compounds which have shown promising results as well as a strong focus on identifying specific mechanisms of action and extensive clinical trials using the most promising lichen based drug therapies followed by large scale production of the best of those compounds.


Lichens Biological role Natural products Secondary metabolites Anti-bacteria Anti-cancer 



We would like to express our appreciation to Graduate Studies, BYU for providing funding and Dr. Steven D. Leavitt for providing valuable suggestions during manuscript preparation.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biology and the M. L. Bean Life Science MuseumBrigham Young UniversityProvoUSA

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