Phytochemical evaluation of Ziziphus mucronata and Xysmalobium undulutum towards the discovery and development of anti-malarial drugs

Muzi N. Buthelezi, Vhahangwele G. Tshililo, Abidemi P. Kappo, Mthokozisi B.C. Simelane

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The development of resistance by Plasmodium falciparum is a burdening hazard that continues to undermine the strides made to alleviate malaria. As such, there is an increasing need to find new alternative strategies. This study evaluated and validated 2 medicinal plants used in traditional medicine to treat malaria. Methods: Inspired by their ethnobotanical reputation of being effective against malaria, Ziziphus mucronata and Xysmalobium undulutum were collected and sequentially extracted using hexane (HEX), ethyl acetate (ETA), Dichloromethane (DCM) and methanol (MTL). The resulting crude extracts were screened for their anti-malarial and cytotoxic potential using the parasite lactate dehydrogenase (pLDH) and 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide (MTT) assay, respectively. This was followed by isolating the active compounds from the DCM extract of Z. mucronata using silica gel chromatography and structural elucidation using spectroscopic techniques (NMR: 1H, 12C, and DEPT). The active compounds were then targeted against P. falciparum heat shock protein 70–1 (PfHsp70-1) using Autodock Vina, followed by in vitro validation assays using ultraviolet–visible (UV–VIS) spectroscopy and the malate dehydrogenase (MDH) chaperone activity assay. Results: The extracts except those of methanol displayed anti-malarial potential with varying IC50 values, Z. mucronata HEX (11.69 ± 3.84 µg/mL), ETA (7.25 ± 1.41 µg/mL), DCM (5.49 ± 0.03 µg/mL), and X. undulutum HEX (4.9 ± 0.037 µg/mL), ETA (17.46 ± 0.024 µg/mL) and DCM (19.27 ± 0.492 µg/mL). The extracts exhibited minimal cytotoxicity except for the ETA and DCM of Z. mucronata with CC50 values of 10.96 and 10.01 µg/mL, respectively. Isolation and structural characterization of the active compounds from the DCM extracts revealed that betulinic acid (19.95 ± 1.53 µg/mL) and lupeol (7.56 ± 2.03 µg/mL) were responsible for the anti-malarial activity and had no considerable cytotoxicity (CC50 > µg/mL). Molecular docking suggested strong binding between PfHsp70-1, betulinic acid (− 6.8 kcal/mol), and lupeol (− 6.9 kcal/mol). Meanwhile, the in vitro validation assays revealed the disruption of the protein structural elements and chaperone function. Conclusion: This study proves that X undulutum and Z. mucronata have anti-malarial potential and that betulinic acid and lupeol are responsible for the activity seen on Z. mucronata. They also make a case for guided purification of new phytochemicals in the other extracts and support the notion of considering medicinal plants to discover new anti-malarials.

Original languageEnglish
Article number141
JournalMalaria Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2024


  • Betulinic acid
  • Lupeol
  • Malaria
  • PfHsp70-1
  • Plasmodium falciparum
  • Xysmalobium undulutum
  • Ziziphus mucronata

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Infectious Diseases


Dive into the research topics of 'Phytochemical evaluation of Ziziphus mucronata and Xysmalobium undulutum towards the discovery and development of anti-malarial drugs'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this