Justicia gendarussa, also known as the "willow-leaved Justicia," has been shown to have significantly stronger antiretroviral properties than the common anti-Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) drug, Azidothymidine (AZT).
Azidothymidine, the first drug that was approved in the fight against AIDS in the 1980s, is still a main component in the medication mix commonly prescribed to HIV patients today. But new research may have found a plant-derived chemical compound that is much more effective than azidothymidine.
AZT works by inhibiting an enzyme that the HIV virus needs to "invade" a cell. This enzyme is called reverse transcriptase. New research, published in the Journal of Natural Products, has found a plant compound that may be more effective at inhibiting this enzyme than AZT.
The chemical compound is called "patentiflorin A" and is derived from a medicinal plant found in East Asia: Justicia gendarussa. The discovery is the result of a research effort extending over several years, carried out by an international team of scientists from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), the Hong Kong Baptist University in Kowloon Tong, and the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology in Hanoi.
The team was led by Lijun Rong, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the UIC College of Medicine, who has special expertise in identifying antiviral agents.
Rong and colleagues selected Justicia from a pool of more than 4,500 plants.
After separating the extracts of the stems and roots of this plant using bioassay-guided isolation - which is the most common procedure for separating extracted compounds based on their biological activity - the researchers found the "anti-HIV arylnaphthalene lignan glycoside" that is patentiflorin A.
Then, Rong and team assessed the effect of the compound against the M-tropic and T-tropic HIV isolates. "Tropism" refers to the type of cells that the virus is able to invade. M-tropism refers to the virus' ability to invade macrophages, while T-tropism refers to its ability to invade T cells, which are both white blood cells with key roles in immunity.
The tropism tests showed that patentiflorin A had "a significantly higher inhibition effect than the clinically used anti-HIV drug AZT."