Medicinal Menispermaceae

The family Menispermaceae consists of 70 genera and about 400 species of tropical climbers that have attracted a great deal of interest on account of their ability to elaborate a series of benzylisoquinoline and aporphine alkaloids. The cardinal features of Menisper-maceae are the transversal section of the stem, which shows a yellow wood with broad medullary rays, and muricate and horseshoe-like seeds in glossy little berries. In regard to the pharmaceutical usefulness of Menispermaceae, the dried transverse slices of roots of Jateorrhiza palmata Miers (calumba, British Pharmaceutical Codex, 1954) and the dried stems of Tinospora cordifolia (tinospora, Indian Pharmaceutical Codex) have been used to promote appetite and digestion. Examples of drugs obtained from Menispermaceae are picrotoxin and tubocurarine. Tubocurarine, from curare-producing Amazonian Menispermaceae, is anticholinergic at the neuromuscular synapse and abrogates the tone of skeletal muscles, hence its use in general anesthesia (tubocurarine chloride, British Pharmacopoeia, 1963).

About 40 plant species in this family are medicinal in the Pacific Rim. Note that many of these are used to reduce fever, promote urination and digestion, and mitigate pains. Although there have been many studies on the phytochemical constituents of Menispermaceae, much less work has been done on the central nervous potential of these isoquinoline-producing plants. An interesting development from Menisperma-ceae is the search for dopaminergic agents because preliminary evidence suggests that alkaloids such as tetrahydropalmatine bind to dopaminergic D2 receptors (128).

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