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Traditional Chinese medicine and natural products, from which a large proportion of modern drugs in clinical use are derived from, are great resources for special health improvement, economic potential and ecology utilization in China. They play an indispensable role in modern drug R&D. The artemisinin from the Artemisia annua L., discovered by Nobel Prize winner, Youyou Tu, has saved millions of lives and natural medicine has increasingly attracted worldwide attentions. China has a long history of studying and applying medicinal plants, and thus has accumulated a wealth of experience. Especially in recent decades of years, modernization of traditional Chinese medicine has harvested gratifying achievements.
In this special issue, we present the current advancement in the study of traditional Chinese medicine and natural compounds, including the theses on modification of natural products (Zongru guo), extraction and isolation of natural products and structure identification of novel compounds (Guodong Chen and Hao Gao et al., Yong Jiang et al., and Jiangong Shi et al.), pharmacological activity and mechanism study of natural products (Lianhua Fang and Guanhua Du, et al.), new technology and method of quality control (Yanfei Zheng and Zhisheng Wu, et al., Baochang Cai et al., Yue Shi et al., and Shaoping Li et al.), medicinal resources and application (Da-Cheng Hao and Peigen Xiao, et al.), and activity-related gene function study of medicinal plants (Wei Gao and Luqi Huang, et al. and Xiaojun Ma, et al.). These articles generally reflect the line of thinking and the strategy taken in modern study of traditional medicines, which may pave way for future works in related areas.
Many natural products need structure modification to improve the potency and safety. They are exactly the starting points for drug discovery. Zongru Guo summarized the aspects and principles of modifying natural compounds leading to successful medicines, which is quite different from the strategy of structure-based drug discovery. Yanfei Zheng and Zhisheng Wu, et al. summarized the advantages and shortcomings of new sensor technologies (NIR, EN, ET and CI) in quality evaluation of Chinese materia medica (CMM), which will be full of prospects and opportunities in the future. The review from Da-Cheng Hao and Peigen Xiao, et al. focused on the phytochemistry, chemotaxonomy, molecular biology and phylogeny of Ilex species and their relevance to health-promotion and therapeutic efficacy, which are essential for the sustainable development and utilization of Ilex medicinal and food resources. Lianhua Fang and Guanhua Du׳s group offered us a model to study the pharmacological action of the natural compounds. They found that salvianolic acid A (SAA) decreased the levels of serum autoantibodies and protected the kidneys in lupus BALB/c mouse model induced by pristane. Hao Gao׳s group discovered a set of interesting sequoiatones stereoisomers from a fungus strain Talaromyces flavus. Yong Jiang et al. obtained four new phenolic glycosides from the aqueous extract of Baoyuan decoction (BYD), a traditional Chinese medicinal formula for the treatment of coronary heart disease, aplastic anemia, and chronic renal failure, and successfully determined their absolute configurations as well as their sources. Jiangong Shi׳s laboratory separated several aromatic compounds from an aqueous extract of “ban lan gen” based on their previous research. The structure and structure-related interesting biological activities of these aromatic compounds were also elucidated. Groups of Baochang Cai, Yue Shi, and Shaoping Li developed three new methods for the quality control of Cimicifugae Rhizoma (Sheng-ma), Shengjiang Xiexin decoction and Cordyceps, respectively, providing useful tools for the standardization of traditional medicines and further study of the pharmacology and mechanisms of action. Natural products are usually obtained by extraction, but the yields are often dissatisfactory. Also, naturally sourced structures are often too complicated for chemical synthesis. Applying tool of synthetic biology, heterologous biosynthesis of natural products in other organisms can be achieved. Two examples of primary trial are presented. One is from our team. An HDR (4-hydroxy-3-methylbut-2-enyl diphosphate reductase) gene from Tripterygium wilfordii, which may be a key enzyme for the biosynthesis of diterpenoid triptolide, was cloned and identified. Another is from group of Xiaojun Ma who cloned a squalene synthase (SQS) and a cycloartenol synthase (CAS) from Siraitia grosvenorii, which are the key enzymes in triterpenoid and steroid biosynthesis. These researches build the foundations for further exploration and manipulation of the genes and heterologous biosynthesis.
Above all, we hope this issue provides our readers more information about the presented topics, and help the researchers in these fields stimulate further research interests to move the fields forward.
Peer review under responsibility of Institute of Materia Medica, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Chinese Pharmaceutical Association.