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White, J. Fungal Endophytes: Sources of Medicines. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 18 April 2024).
White J. Fungal Endophytes: Sources of Medicines. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed April 18, 2024.
White, James. "Fungal Endophytes: Sources of Medicines" Encyclopedia, (accessed April 18, 2024).
White, J. (2021, February 24). Fungal Endophytes: Sources of Medicines. In Encyclopedia.
White, James. "Fungal Endophytes: Sources of Medicines." Encyclopedia. Web. 24 February, 2021.
Fungal Endophytes: Sources of Medicines

Fungal endophytes are well-established sources of biologically active natural compounds with many producing pharmacologically valuable specific plant-derived products.

Fungal Endophytes

1. Introduction

Several recent reports suggest that natural products may play a substantial role in the drug discovery and development process as a source of diverse and novel templates for future drugs[1][2][3][4]. With the rapidly evolving recognition that significant numbers of natural products are either produced by microbes or a result of microbial interactions with their hosts, the area of endophyte research for natural products is positioned to take the drug discovery and development process to the next level [5][6]. In the backdrop of the past 25 years of studies, endophytes may be defined as a polyphyletic group of unique microorganisms residing in healthy living internal tissues of the plants with covert and/or overt positive effects on their hosts. They establish a variety of intricate biological intra- and inter-relationships among them and with their hosts, respectively. Endophytes are able to produce a multitude of secondary metabolites with diverse biological activities[7][8][9]. However, merely 0.75–1.50% of known plant species has been explored for their endophytes yet. So, the opportunity to find new potential bioactive metabolites from cryptic endophytic microorganisms of nearly 374,000–400,000 plant species congruently occupying millions of biological niches is considered high [5][10]. This opportunity has increased further with the innovative discovery of biosynthesis of Taxus derived anticancer compound ‘taxol’ from its endophytic fungus T. andreanae in 1993 by Stierle et al.[11]. This discovery leads to renewed attention in endophytic fungi for isolating plant-derived medicinal compounds [12][13][14]. Later, a series of works revealed that a reasonable number of plant-derived compounds are synthesized by endophytes rather than hosts[9][15]. However, there are unsettled and contradictory reports regarding the phylogenetic origin of genes related to the biosynthesis pathway of such plant-derived compounds in host plants and their microbial endophytes [16]. The above facts prompted us to use the word “plant/host-derived” rather than “plant/host-origin” for such compounds. Nevertheless, it is now an established fact that endophytes can co-/produce, induce, and/or modify a plethora of “specific plant-derived” metabolites in-/outside of host plants[17][12][14]. Such discoveries opened the new horizons for the up-scaled production of plant-derived medicinal compounds from endophytes. The recent increase in demand for natural products and difficulties in accessing them from plants make endophytes interesting targets for the assessment and isolation of typical host-derived compounds[18][19]. Since medicinal plants are an inherent source of many therapeutic compounds, it is vital to explore their endophytes to isolate such compounds. The current review aims to provide an up-to-date overview on the globally isolated specific plant-derived bioactive compounds synthesized by fungal endophytes from the period 1993 to mid-2020. It will also focus on applications and modes of actions of such compounds. This review will also provide insights about different challenges in employing endophytes as an alternative source for the synthesis of plant-derived bioactive compounds and their application in drug discovery. Its outcome would certainly lead to strategize the use of endophytes as an efficient novel source for plant-derived metabolites. 

2. Plant-Derived Bioactive Natural Products from Fungal Endophytes

A wide array of secondary metabolites in fungi is biosynthesized from very few key precursor compounds by slight variations in basic biosynthetic pathways and can be classified into nonribosomal peptides, polyketides, terpenes, and alkaloids. Nonribosomal peptides are biosynthesized by multimodular nonribosomal peptide synthetases (NRPS) enzymes using both proteinogenic and nonproteinogenic amino acids. Polyketides are biosynthesized by polyketide synthase (PKS) enzymes from acetyl-CoA and malonyl-CoA units. Terpenes consisting of isoprene subunits are biosynthesized from the mevalonate pathway catalyzed by terpene cyclase enzymes. Alkaloids are nitrogen-containing organic compounds biosynthesized as complex mixtures through the shikimic acid and the mevalonate pathways, as they are usually derived from aromatic amino acids and dimethlyallyl pyrophosphate[20]. Other classes of fungal secondary metabolites are linked with the above four groups of compounds. For ease and better understanding, we have classified different fungal secondary metabolites as alkaloids, coumarins, flavonoids, lignans, saponins, terpenes, quinones, and xanthones, and miscellaneous compounds. Coumarins are a class of lactones consisting of a benzene ring fused to a α-pyrone ring and are mainly biosynthesized by the shikimic acid pathway from cinnamic acid. Flavonoids are synthesized by the phenylpropanoid pathway from phenylalanine using enzymes phenylalanine ammonia lyase (PAL), chalcone synthase, chalcone isomerase, and flavonol reductase [21]. Lignans are low molecular weight polyphenols biosynthesized by enzymes pinoresinol-lariciresinol reductase (PLR), PAL, cinnamoyl-CoA reductase (CCR), and cinnamyl-alcohol dehydrogenase (CAD)[22]. Saponins are glycosides containing a non-sugar triterpene or steroid aglycone (sapogenin) attached to the sugar moiety. Saponins are derived from intermediates of the phytosterol pathway using enzymes oxidosqualene cyclases (OSCs), cytochromes P450 (P450s), and UDP-glycosyltransferases (UGTs) [23]. Quinones are biosynthesized through several pathways; for example, isoprenoid quinones are synthesized by the shikimate pathway using chorismite-derived compounds as precursors, terrequinone by NRPS from L-tryptophan, dopaquinone by tyrosinase from tyrosine, and benzoquinone by catechol oxidase/PKS from catechol[24]. Xanthones comprise an important class of oxygenated heterocyclics biosynthesized through the polyacetate/polymalonate pathway by the internal cyclization of a single folded polyketide chain[25].

2.1. Plant-Derived Alkaloids from Fungal Endophytes

After a systematic literature survey, we enlisted 19 plant-derived medicinal alkaloids that have been produced by different endophytic fungi (Table 1), and some important alkaloids are described below.

Table 1. Plant-derived alkaloids produced by endophytic fungi.

2.2. Plant-Derived Coumarins (Benzopyrones) from Fungal Endophytes

Coumarins have been routinely employed as herbal remedies since the onset of herbal medicine. It was first isolated as a natural product from seeds of Dipteryx odorata (Coumarouna odorata) [102]. A total of seven medicinally important specific plant-derived coumarins are produced by fungal endophytes (Table 2).

Table 2. Plant-derived coumarins produced by endophytic fungi.

2.3. Plant-Derived Flavonoids from Fungal Endophytes

Flavonoids are pigments of edible plants consisting of two benzene rings at either side of a three-carbon ring. Multiple substitutions in this basic structure produce several classes of derivatives, such as flavones, isoflavones, flavonols, flavanones, catechins, and anthocyanins. We found 12 different biologically active plant-derived flavonoids (Table 3) recovered from fungal endophytes and important flavonoids are described below.

Table 3. Plant-derived flavonoids produced by endophytic fungi.



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Subjects: Plant Sciences
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