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Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Volume 3 (2006), Issue 1, Pages 39-48

The Alkaloid Alstonine: A Review of Its Pharmacological Properties

1Laboratório de Etnofarmacologia, ICBS, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil
2Laboratório de Neuropsicofarmacologia, Universidade do Extremo Sul Catarinense Criciúma, SC, Brazil

Received 19 August 2005

Copyright © 2006 E. Elisabetsky and E. Elisabetsky. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Indole compounds, related to the metabolism of tryptophan, constitute an extensive family, and are found in bacteria, plants and animals. Indolic compounds possess significant and complex physiological roles, and especially indole alkaloids have historically constituted a class of major importance in the development of new plant derived drugs. The indole alkaloid alstonine has been identified as the major component of a plant-based remedy, used in Nigeria to treat mental illnesses by traditional psychiatrists. Although it is certainly difficult to compare the very concept of mental disorders in different cultures, the traditional use of alstonine is remarkably compatible with its profile in experimental animals. Even though alstonine in mice models shows a psychopharmacological profile closer to the newer atypical antipsychotic agents, it also shows important differences and what seems to be an exclusive mechanism of action, not entirely clarified at this point. Considering the seemingly unique mode of action of alstonine and that its traditional use can be viewed as indicative of bioavailability and safety, this review focuses on the effects of alstonine in the central nervous system, particularly on its unique profile as an antipsychotic agent. We suggest that a thorough understanding of traditional medical concepts of health and disease in general and traditional medical practices in particular, can lead to true innovation in paradigms of drug action and development. Overall, the study of this unique indole alkaloid may be considered as another example of the richness of medicinal plants and traditional medical systems in the discovery of new prototypic drugs.