Laos has a rich plant diversity, and medicinal plants are used extensively in Lao traditional medicine for the treatment of a variety of human diseases. However, only a relatively small number of these plants have been investigated for their major components with potential antitumor, anti-infective, and other types of bioactivities. These species include Asparagus cochinchinensis, Diospyros quaesita, Gongronema napalense, Marsypopetalum modestum, Nauclea orientalis, Rourea minor, Stemona pierrei, and Stemona tuberosa. Thus far, the bioactive compounds isolated from these Lao plants include alkaloids, glycerol esters, phenolic compounds such as lignans and stilbenoids, steroids, and triterpenoids. Of these, the norlignan, nyasol (1b), the triterpenes, pyracrenic acid [3β-O-trans-caffeoylbetulinic acid (3)] and betulinic acid (3b), and the dimeric thiopyridine, dipyrithione (5), were found to show both cancer cell cytotoxicity and anti-infective activity. The present review focuses on examples of promising lead compounds isolated from Lao plants, with their possible development as potential therapeutic agents being discussed. It is hoped that this contribution will provide useful information on higher plants growing in Laos to help stimulate future discoveries of potential agents for the treatment of cancer, infections, and other diseases.
Key words: Lao plants, chemical compounds, human diseases.
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