Anti-HIV activity of selected South African medicinal plants
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South Africa has the largest number of people infected with HIV/AIDS. It also has more than 30 000 species of plants and many of these have a long tradition of medicinal use. It is highly likely that the treatment for HIV will come from this traditional knowledge. The need for effective preventative and therapeutic agents for HIV remains an urgent global priority. The aim of this study was to screen selected South African medicinal plants for anti-HIV activity and to identify and characterise an active compound from a plant that can be used for HIV treatment. The aqueous and methanolic extracts of the roots, leaves, flowers and stems of thirty eight plant species (108 extracts) were screened for anti-HIV activity. The plants which had anti-HIV activity were further screened for anti-reverse transcriptase activity. Thirty-two extracts exhibited varying degrees of anti-HIV activity. Cleome monophylla, Dichrostachys cinerea and Leonotis leonurus aqueous leaf extracts had anti-HIV-1 reverse transcriptase activity. The aqueous extracts of D. cinerea showed the best anti-HIV activity with a Selectivity Index of 43.5 and significant anti-HIV-1 reverse transcriptase activity. Crude phytochemical screening of D. cinerea showed that it had tannins, saponins, flavonoids and alkaloids but did not contain any phlobatannins, terpenoids, steroids or phenols. D. cinerea displayed a high degree of free radical scavenging activity with an IC50 of 25 μg/ml, therefore the anti-HIV activity could be attributed to the flavonoids present in the plant. Bio-guided fractionation was used to isolate and purify the active compound from the D. cinerea extract. Compounds were isolated by thin layer chromatography and were tested for anti-HIV-1 and anti-reverse transcriptase activity. From these results the active compound was identified, and purified using preparative TLC. The active compound was characterised by High Performance Liquid Chromatography, Ultraviolet-visible spectrophotometry, and Ultra Performance liquid chromatography coupled to MS/MS. Structural elucidation was performed using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance. From these results, it was deduced that the compound isolated from D. cinerea was a catechin. In this study we show that the catechins present in D. cinerea are responsible for the anti- HIV-I activity and inhibits the reverse transcriptase activity which is a key factor in the progression of HIV. Potentially, these results can be used to develop a new drug for the treatment of HIV or as a cost effective therapeutic agent in treating HIV-infected individuals with oxidative stress.