The Amaryllidaceae occupies a privileged status amongst medicinal plants in
having delivered the Alzheimer’s drug galanthamine to the clinical market. Following its resounding
success, there have been several positive indicators for the emergence of an anticancer
drug from the family due to the potent antiproliferative activities manifested by several
of its alkaloid constituents. Of these, the phenanthridones such as pancratistatin hold most promise as potential
chemotherapeutics having succumbed to various phases of clinical trials. Other cytotoxic targets of the
Amaryllidaceae are to be found within the lycorane and crinane groups, as exemplified by crinine and lycorine.
Although the molecular targets of these alkaloids still remain elusive, much effort has gone into understanding
their mode of action in cancer cells. Recent findings have shown that the apoptotic pathway may
be a key factor in cancer cell death instigated by Amaryllidaceae alkaloids. As such, this review seeks to: (a)
examine the apoptotic effects of Amaryllidaceae alkaloids in cancer cells; (b) explore the molecular basis to
these effects; and (c) provide a pharmacophoric rationale in support of these activities.
Keywords: Alkaloid, amaryllidaceae, apoptosis, cancer, cytotoxicity, mechanism.
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