Saponins can be classified as triterpenoid (C30) or steroidal (C27), based on their carbon nucleus (aglycone). Sugar residues are linked to the aglycone, conferring an amphiphilic nature on these molecules, which is relevant for their biological activities. Saponins include a large variety of molecules that find several applications in pharmacology. Saponins have been shown to display immunoadjuvant, anti-inflammatory, antiplatelet, hypocholesterolemic, antitumoral, anti- HIV, antibacterial, insecticide, fungicide and anti-leishmanial activities. Anti-inflammatory medicines are increasingly demanded to treat various forms of arthritis in aging and obese populations and to help reduce the doses and duration of conventional corticotherapy with less side effects and without immunosuppression. The vaccine market for both human and veterinary uses is close to US$ 15 billion, progressively inflated by the recurrent threat of global pandemics.This paper provides an overview of recent advances (main focus on the last five years) on plant saponins that show antiinflammatory and/or immunoadjuvant activities: source plants, isolation procedures, mechanism of action and biotechnological approaches towards sustainable production of bioactive saponins. Special attention is given to ginseng and Quillaja saponins. Strategies based on plant cultivation, cell and tissue culture, elicitation, and metabolic engineering for improved production of saponins are described. Future directions for research in the field and strategies to overcome bottlenecks are also discussed.
Keywords: Anti-inflammatory, cell culture, immunoadjuvant, metabolic engineering, plant, production, saponin, aglycone, hypocholesterolemic, immunosuppression
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