For people with psychiatric disorders, American researchers have created certain chemical compounds that could lead to better therapies from plant species traditionally used by healers in Nigeria to treat people with mental illness.
"After billions of years of evolution, nature has given us a great starting point for generating new types of molecules that could end up being used as innovative drugs," said lead author of the paper Karl Scheidt from Northwestern University. "We have learned how to make these natural products in the lab and can now evaluate what are the most effective parts of these natural products for potential therapies."
The scientists created these natural compounds by completing the first total syntheses of two indole alkaloids (group of naturally occurring chemical compounds) -- alstonine and serpentine.
These alkaloids are found in various plant species that are used by healers in Nigeria to treat people with conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Traditional healers boil these special plants and produce an extract that they administer to people with symptoms of mental illness. However, this extract is not pure, and it contains other compounds and materials that may not be beneficial to people with mental disorders.
"Nature did not intend this plant to produce an anti-psychotic drug on its own," Herbert Meltzer, professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, pointed out.
The researchers are using these compounds in animal studies to better understand how they affect brain biology and chemistry in the schizophrenia disease model.
Early results showed that the compounds may increase the ability of other anti-psychotic drugs to improve cognitive impairment.
The study appeared online in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition