Natural products from marine invertebrates against Leishmania parasites: a comprehensive review

Marta Oliveira, Luísa Barreira, Katkam N. Gangadhar, Maria João Rodrigues, Tamára Santos, João Varela, Luísa Custódio

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Parasitic infections by Leishmania parasites remains a severe public health problem, especially in developing countries where it is highly endemic. Chemotherapy still remains a first option for the treatment of those diseases, despite the fact that available drugs exhibit a variety of shortcomings. Thus, innovative, less toxic more affordable and effective antileishmanial agents are urgently needed. The marine environment holds an immeasurable bio- and chemical diversity, being a valuable source of natural products with therapeutic potential. As invertebrates comprise about 60 % of all marine organisms, bioprospecting this class of organisms for antileishmanial properties may unravel unique and selective hit molecules. In this context, this review covers results on the literature of marine invertebrate extracts and pure compounds evaluated against Leishmania parasites mainly by in vitro methods. It comprises results obtained from the phyla Porifera, Cnidaria, Bryozoa (Ectoprota), Mollusca, Echinodermata, Annelida, Cetnophora, Platyhelminthes, sub phyla Crustacea (phylum Arthropoda) and Tunicata (phylum Chordata). Moreover, structure–activity relationships and possible mechanisms of action are mentioned, whenever available information is provided. About 70 species of marine invertebrates belonging to seven different phyla are included in this work. Besides a variety of crude extracts, a total of 140 pure compounds was tested against different Leishmania species. Although the research on the antileishmanial potential of marine invertebrates is in its early beginnings, promising results have been achieved that encourage further research. As more extracts and compounds are being screened, the possibility of finding active and selective antileishmanial molecules increases, rising new hope in the search for new treatments against leishmaniases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)663-697
Number of pages35
JournalPhytochemistry Reviews
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2016


  • Antileishmanial activity
  • Marine invertebrates
  • Parasitic infections
  • Structure–activity relationship (SAR)


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