Depression and anxiety currently rank as the second and fifth most common causes worldwide of years lived with disability-a reality that has intensified the search for new treatments. There are many studies of herbal extracts and secondary metabolites from plants used in traditional medicine due to their antidepressant and anxiolytic properties. Clinical and preclinical studies about some of the mechanisms of action of metabolites like alkaloids, terpenes, flavonoids, and sterols, among others, have documented effects similar to those produced by clinically effective drugs. These metabolites have shown anxiolytic and antidepressant effects in various experimental models of anxiety by interacting with γ-aminobutyric acid subtype A receptors (GABAA-receptors) and by stimulating the serotonergic, noradrenergic, and dopaminergic neurotransmitter systems. These pharmacological effects can be attributed to plant metabolites that share structural similarities with monoamines, which allow them to bind to receptors. The objective of this chapter is to summarize the various mechanisms of action that have been identified in secondary metabolites with anxiolytic and antidepressant properties. Terpenes, alkaloids, flavonoids, and sterols can interact at different levels of the neurotransmission systems involved in the neurobiology of anxiety and depression, suggesting their potential for treating these mental illnesses.
Part of the book: Behavioral Pharmacology