Sesquiterpenes, 15-carbon compounds formed from 3 isoprenoid units, are secondary metabolites
produced mainly in higher plants but also in fungi and invertebrates. Sesquiterpenes occur in human food, but
they are principally taken as components of many folk medicines and dietary supplements. Moreover, sesquiterpenes
could become a rich reservoir of candidate compounds for drug discovery as several sesquiterpenes and their derivatives
possess interesting biological activities. Recent efforts in the research and development of new drugs derived from
natural products have led to the identification of a variety of sesquiterpenes that possess promising anti-inflammatory, antiparasitic
and anti-carcinogenic activities. On the other hand, some sesquiterpenes can cause serious toxicity and other adverse
effects. Therefore, more and more attention has been paid to the investigation of the mechanisms of biological activities of
sesquiterpenes in vitro as well as in vivo. The data collected in this review show that many of sesquiterpenes biological activities
are based on antioxidant or pro-oxidant actions of sesquiterpenes. Structure, concentration, metabolism as well as type of
cells determine if sesquiterpene acts as anti-oxidant or pro-oxidant. Therefore, detailed research of sesquiterpenes is very important
for evaluation of their efficacy and for their safe use.
Keywords: Antioxidant, Cancer, Chemoprevention, Inflammation, Pro-oxidant, Sesquiterpene.
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