Saponins (Latin "sapon", soap + "-in", one of), also selectively referred to as triterpene glycosides, are bitter-tasting usually toxic plant-derived organic chemicals that have a foamy quality when agitated in water. They are widely distributed but found particularly in soapwort (genus Saponaria), a flowering plant, the soapbark tree (Quillaja saponaria) and soybeans (Glycine max L.). They are used in soaps, medicinals, fire extinguishers, speciously as dietary supplements, for synthesis of steroids, and in carbonated beverages (the head on a mug of root beer). Structurally, they are glycosides, sugars bonded to another organic molecule, usually a steroid or triterpene, a steroid building block. Saponins are both water and fat soluble, which gives them their useful soap properties. Some examples of these chemicals are glycyrrhizin, licorice flavoring; and quillaia (alt. quillaja), a bark extract used in beverages.[1][2]


The saponins are a subclass of terpenoids, the largest class of plant extracts. The amphipathic nature of saponins gives them activity as surfactants with potential ability to interact with cell membrane components, such as cholesterol and phospholipids, possibly making saponins useful for development of cosmetics and drugs.[3] Saponins have also been used as adjuvants in development of vaccines,[4] such as Quil A, an extract from the bark of Quillaja saponaria.[3][5] This makes them of interest for possible use in subunit vaccines and vaccines directed against intracellular pathogens.[4] In their use as adjuvants for manufacturing vaccines, toxicity associated with sterol complexation remains a concern.[6]

While saponins are promoted commercially as dietary supplements and are used in traditional medicine, there is no high-quality clinical evidence that they have any beneficial effect on human health.[5] Quillaja is toxic when consumed in large amounts, involving possible liver damage, gastric pain, diarrhea, or other adverse effects.[5]

Saponins are used for their effects on ammonia emissions in animal feeding.[7] In the United States, researchers are exploring the use of saponins derived from plants to control invasive worm species, including the jumping worm.[8][9]

Saponins exhibit antioxidant potential in brain mitochondria.[10]

Biological functions

Saponins have hypolipidemic properties as they reduce cholesterol and low density lipoprotein levels and may be helpful in the treatment of dyslipidemia.[11]

Saponins exhibit cytotoxic effect on cancer cells through induction of apoptosis. They also have chemotherapeutic properties as they have mechanisms that control protein expression linked to cell cycle, cancer progression and metastasis.[12][13]

The antidiabetic effects of saponins have been extensively reported, with saponins being identified as an antidiabetic principle from medicinal plants.[14][15][16] Several mechanisms have been proposed for the antidiabetic properties of saponins which include, activation of Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors gamma (PPARγ),[17][18] activation of Glucose transporter type 4 (Glut4),[19] Activation of adiponectin expression,[20] Activation of PI3K/Akt Pathway,[21] increase in expression of adipsin and activation of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK).[22][23]


The principal historical use of these plants was boiling down to make soap. Saponaria officinalis is most suited for this procedure, but other related species also work. The greatest concentration of saponin occurs during flowering, with the most saponin found in the woody stems and roots, but the leaves also contain some.


Saponins have historically been plant-derived, but they have also been isolated from marine organisms such as sea cucumber.[1][24] They derive their name from the soapwort plant (genus Saponaria, family Caryophyllaceae), the root of which was used historically as a soap.[1][25][2] Saponins are also found in the botanical family Sapindaceae, including its defining genus Sapindus (soapberry or soapnut) and the horse chestnut, and in the closely related families Aceraceae (maples) and Hippocastanaceae. It is also found heavily in Gynostemma pentaphyllum (Cucurbitaceae) in a form called gypenosides, and ginseng or red ginseng (Panax, Araliaceae) in a form called ginsenosides. Saponins are also found in the unripe fruit of Manilkara zapota (also known as sapodillas), resulting in highly astringent properties. Nerium oleander (Apocynaceae), also known as White Oleander, is a source of the potent cardiac toxin oleandrin. Within these families, this class of chemical compounds is found in various parts of the plant: leaves, stems, roots, bulbs, blossom and fruit.[26] Commercial formulations of plant-derived saponins, e.g., from the soap bark tree, Quillaja saponaria, and those from other sources are available via controlled manufacturing processes, which make them of use as chemical and biomedical reagents.[27] Soyasaponins are a group of structurally complex oleanane-type triterpenoid saponins that include soyasapogenol (aglycone) and oligosaccharide moieties biosynthesized on soybean tissues. Soyasaponins were previously associated to plant-microbe interactions[28] from root exudates and abiotic stresses, as nutritional deficiency.[29]

Role in plant ecology and impact on animal foraging

In plants, saponins may serve as anti-feedants,[2][30] and to protect the plant against microbes and fungi. Some plant saponins (e.g. from oat and spinach) may enhance nutrient absorption and aid in animal digestion. However, saponins are often bitter to taste, and so can reduce plant palatability (e.g., in livestock feeds), or even imbue them with life-threatening animal toxicity.[30] Some saponins are toxic to cold-blooded organisms and insects at particular concentrations.[30] Further research is needed to define the roles of these natural products in their host organisms, which have been described as "poorly understood" to date.[30]


Most saponins, which readily dissolve in water, are poisonous to fish.[31] Therefore, in ethnobotany, they are known for their use by indigenous people in obtaining aquatic food sources. Since prehistoric times, cultures throughout the world have used fish-killing plants, typically containing saponins, for fishing.[32][33][34]

Although prohibited by law, fish-poison plants are still widely used by indigenous tribes in Guyana.[35]

On the Indian subcontinent, the Gondi people use poison-plant extracts in fishing.[36]

Many of California's Native American tribes traditionally used soaproot, (genus Chlorogalum) and/or the root of various yucca species, which contain saponin, as a fish poison. They would pulverize the roots, mix with water to generate a foam, then put the suds into a stream. This would kill or incapacitate the fish, which could be gathered easily from the surface of the water. Among the tribes using this technique were the Lassik, the Luiseño, and the Mattole.[37]

Chemical structure

Chemical structure of solanine, a highly toxic alkaloid saponin found in the nightshade family. The lipophilic steroidal structure is the series of connected six- and five-atom rings at the right of the structure, while the hydrophilic chain of sugar units is to the left and below. Note the nitrogen atom in the steroid skeleton at right, indicating this compound is a glycoalkaloid.

The vast heterogeneity of structures underlying this class of compounds makes generalizations difficult; they're a subclass of terpenoids, oxygenated derivatives of terpene hydrocarbons. Terpenes in turn are formally made up of five-carbon isoprene units. (The alternate steroid base is a terpene missing a few carbon atoms.) Derivatives are formed by substituting other groups for some of the hydrogen atoms of the base structure. In the case of most saponins, one of these substituents is a sugar, so the compound is a glycoside of the base molecule.[1]

More specifically, the lipophilic base structure of a saponin can be a triterpene, a steroid (such as spirostanol or furostanol) or a steroidal alkaloid (in which nitrogen atoms replace one or more carbon atoms). Alternatively, the base structure may be an acyclic carbon chain rather than the ring structure typical of steroids. One or two (rarely three) hydrophilic monosaccharide (simple sugar) units bind to the base structure via their hydroxyl (OH) groups. In some cases other substituents are present, such as carbon chains bearing hydroxyl or carboxyl groups. Such chain structures may be 1-11 carbon atoms long, but are usually 2–5 carbons long; the carbon chains themselves may be branched or unbranched.[1]

The most commonly encountered sugars are monosaccharides like glucose and galactose, though a wide variety of sugars occurs naturally. Other kinds of molecules such as organic acids may also attach to the base, by forming esters via their carboxyl (COOH) groups. Of particular note among these are sugar acids such as glucuronic acid and galacturonic acid, which are oxidized forms of glucose and galactose.[1]

See also


  1. Hostettmann, K.; A. Marston (1995). Saponins. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 3ff. ISBN 978-0-521-32970-5. OCLC 29670810.
  2. "Saponins". Cornell University. 14 August 2008. Archived from the original on 23 August 2015. Retrieved 23 February 2009.
  3. Lorent, Joseph H.; Quetin-Leclercq, Joëlle; Mingeot-Leclercq, Marie-Paule (28 November 2014). "The amphiphilic nature of saponins and their effects on artificial and biological membranes and potential consequences for red blood and cancer cells". Organic and Biomolecular Chemistry. Royal Society of Chemistry. 12 (44): 8803–8822. doi:10.1039/c4ob01652a. ISSN 1477-0520. PMID 25295776. S2CID 205925983. Archived from the original on 28 February 2022. Retrieved 16 December 2019.
  4. Sun, Hong-Xiang; Xie, Yong; Ye, Yi-Ping (2009). "Advances in saponin-based adjuvants". Vaccine. 27 (12): 1787–1796. doi:10.1016/j.vaccine.2009.01.091. ISSN 0264-410X. PMID 19208455.
  5. "Quillaja". 2018. Archived from the original on 26 December 2018. Retrieved 26 December 2018.
  6. Skene, Caroline D.; Philip Sutton (1 September 2006). "Saponin-adjuvanted particulate vaccines for clinical use". Methods. 40 (1): 53–9. doi:10.1016/j.ymeth.2006.05.019. PMID 16997713.
  7. Zentner, Eduard (July 2011). "Effects of phytogenic feed additives containing quillaja saponaria on ammonia in fattening pigs" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 27 September 2013. Retrieved 27 November 2012.
  8. Roach, Margaret (22 July 2020). "As Summer Takes Hold, So Do the Jumping Worms". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 27 July 2020. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  9. "Invasive 'Jumping' Worms Are Now Tearing Through Midwestern Forests". Audubon. 2 January 2020. Archived from the original on 9 August 2020. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  10. Elekofehinti, Olusola Olalekan; Kamdem, Jean Paul; Meinerz, Daiane Francine; et al. (10 July 2015). "Saponin from the fruit of Solanum anguivi protects against oxidative damage mediated by Fe2+ and sodium nitroprusside in rat brain synaptosome P2 fraction". Archives of Pharmacal Research. doi:10.1007/s12272-014-0536-9. ISSN 0253-6269. PMID 26160066. S2CID 40753026. Archived from the original on 1 October 2021. Retrieved 1 October 2021.
  11. Ejelonu, Oluwamodupe Cecilia; Elekofehinti, Olusola Olalekan; Adanlawo, Isaac Gbadura (March 2017). "Tithonia diversifolia saponin-blood lipid interaction and its influence on immune system of normal wistar rats". Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. 87: 589–595. doi:10.1016/j.biopha.2017.01.017. ISSN 1950-6007. PMID 28086134. Archived from the original on 1 October 2021. Retrieved 1 October 2021.
  12. Moses, Tessa; Papadopoulou, Kalliope K.; Osbourn, Anne (November 2014). "Metabolic and functional diversity of saponins, biosynthetic intermediates and semi-synthetic derivatives". Critical Reviews in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. 49 (6): 439–462. doi:10.3109/10409238.2014.953628. ISSN 1040-9238. PMC 4266039. PMID 25286183.
  13. Elekofehinti, Olusola Olalekan; Iwaloye, Opeyemi; Olawale, Femi; Ariyo, Esther Opeyemi (June 2021). "Saponins in Cancer Treatment: Current Progress and Future Prospects". Pathophysiology. 28 (2): 250–272. doi:10.3390/pathophysiology28020017. PMC 8830467. PMID 35366261.
  14. Elekofehinti, Olusola Olalekan (1 June 2015). "Saponins: Anti-diabetic principles from medicinal plants – A review". Pathophysiology. 22 (2): 95–103. doi:10.1016/j.pathophys.2015.02.001. ISSN 0928-4680. PMID 25753168. Archived from the original on 28 February 2022. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  15. Xu, Jing; Wang, Sha; Feng, Tianhui; et al. (2018). "Hypoglycemic and hypolipidemic effects of total saponins from Stauntonia chinensis in diabetic db/db mice". Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine. 22 (12): 6026–6038. doi:10.1111/jcmm.13876. ISSN 1582-4934. PMC 6237556. PMID 30324705.
  16. Luyen, Nguyen Thi; Dang, Nguyen Hai; Binh, Phung Thi Xuan; et al. (September 2018). "Hypoglycemic property of triterpenoid saponin PFS isolated from Polyscias fruticosa leaves". Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências. 90 (3): 2881–2886. doi:10.1590/0001-3765201820170945. ISSN 1678-2690. PMID 30304222. S2CID 52955400. Archived from the original on 28 February 2022. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  17. Elbrecht, Alex; Chen, Yuli; Cullinan, Cathy A.; et al. (July 1996). "Molecular Cloning, Expression and Characterization of Human Peroxisome Proliferator Activated Receptors γ1 and γ2". Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications. 224 (2): 431–437. doi:10.1006/bbrc.1996.1044. PMID 8702406. Archived from the original on 18 October 2021. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  18. Elekofehinti, Olusola Olalekan; Omotuyi, Idowu Olaposi; Kamdem, Jean Paul; et al. (June 2014). "Saponin as regulator of biofuel: implication for ethnobotanical management of diabetes". Journal of Physiology and Biochemistry. 70 (2): 555–567. doi:10.1007/s13105-014-0325-4. ISSN 1138-7548. PMID 24563096. S2CID 17338431. Archived from the original on 28 February 2022. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  19. Kwon, Dae Young; Kim, Young Seob; Ryu, Shi Yong; et al. (August 2012). "Platyconic acid, a saponin from Platycodi radix, improves glucose homeostasis by enhancing insulin sensitivity in vitro and in vivo". European Journal of Nutrition. 51 (5): 529–540. doi:10.1007/s00394-011-0236-x. ISSN 1436-6207. PMID 21847688. S2CID 25555109. Archived from the original on 28 February 2022. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  20. Zheng, Tao; Shu, Guangwen; Yang, Zhanzhan; et al. (February 2012). "Antidiabetic effect of total saponins from Entada phaseoloides (L.) Merr. in type 2 diabetic rats". Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 139 (3): 814–821. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2011.12.025. PMID 22212505. Archived from the original on 30 June 2018. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  21. Bhavsar, Shefalee K.; Singh, Satinder; Giri, Suresh; et al. (July 2009). "Effect of saponins from Helicteres isora on lipid and glucose metabolism regulating genes expression". Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 124 (3): 426–433. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2009.05.041. PMID 19505560. Archived from the original on 15 June 2018. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  22. Kim, Jane J.Y.; Xiao, Hong; Tan, Yi; et al. (January 2009). "The Effects and Mechanism of Saponins of Panax notoginseng on Glucose Metabolism in 3T3-L1 Cells". The American Journal of Chinese Medicine. 37 (6): 1179–1189. doi:10.1142/S0192415X09007582. ISSN 0192-415X. PMID 19938225. Archived from the original on 3 October 2021. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  23. Lim, Soo; Yoon, Ji Won; Choi, Sung Hee; et al. (January 2009). "Effect of ginsam, a vinegar extract from Panax ginseng, on body weight and glucose homeostasis in an obese insulin-resistant rat model". Metabolism. 58 (1): 8–15. doi:10.1016/j.metabol.2008.07.027. PMID 19059525. Archived from the original on 28 February 2022. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  24. Riguera, Ricardo (August 1997). "Isolating bioactive compounds from marine organisms". Journal of Marine Biotechnology. 5 (4): 187–193.
  25. Liener, Irvin E (1980). Toxic constituents of plant foodstuffs. The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. Vol. 29. New York City: Academic Press. pp. 56–7. doi:10.1079/pns19700010. ISBN 978-0-12-449960-7. OCLC 5447168. PMID 5529217. S2CID 7317304.
  26. "Species Information". Dr. Duke's Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases. Archived from the original on 18 February 2013. Retrieved 22 January 2015.
  27. "Saponin from quillaja bark". Sigma-Aldrich. Archived from the original on 17 March 2022. Retrieved 23 February 2022.
  28. Tsuno, Yuhei; Fujimatsu, Teruhisa; Endo, Keiji; Sugiyama, Akifumi; Yazaki, Kazufumi (1 February 2018). "Soyasaponins: A New Class of Root Exudates in Soybean (Glycine max)". Plant & Cell Physiology. 59 (2): 366–375. doi:10.1093/pcp/pcx192. ISSN 1471-9053. PMID 29216402.
  29. Cotrim, Gustavo dos Santos; Silva, Deivid Metzker da; Graça, José Perez da; Oliveira Junior, Adilson de; Castro, Cesar de; Zocolo, Guilherme Julião; Lannes, Lucíola Santos; Hoffmann-Campo, Clara Beatriz (2023). "Glycine max (L.) Merr. (Soybean) metabolome responses to potassium availability". Phytochemistry. 205: 113472. doi:10.1016/j.phytochem.2022.113472. ISSN 0031-9422.
  30. Foerster, Hartmut (22 May 2006). "MetaCyc Pathway: saponin biosynthesis I". Archived from the original on 15 September 2019. Retrieved 23 February 2009.
  31. Howes, F. N. (1930), "Fish-poison plants", Bulletin of Miscellaneous Information (Royal Gardens, Kew), 1930 (4): 129–153, doi:10.2307/4107559, JSTOR 4107559
  32. Jonathan G. Cannon, Robert A. Burton, Steven G. Wood, and Noel L. Owen (2004), "Naturally Occurring Fish Poisons from Plants", J. Chem. Educ., 81 (10): 1457, Bibcode:2004JChEd..81.1457C, doi:10.1021/ed081p1457{{citation}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  33. C. E. Bradley (1956), "Arrow and fish poison of the American southwest", Division of Biology, California Institute of Technology, vol. 10, no. 4, pp. 362–366, doi:10.1007/BF02859766, S2CID 35055877
  34. Webb, L. J.; Tracey, J. G.; Haydock, K.P. (1959), An Australian phytochemical survey. III. Saponins in eastern Australian flowering plants, CSIRO, p. 26, doi:10.25919/5xj5-7648
  35. Tinde Van Andel (2000), "The diverse uses of fish-poison plants in Northwest Guyana", Economic Botany, 54 (4): 500–512, doi:10.1007/BF02866548, hdl:1874/23514, S2CID 24945604
  36. Murthy E N, Pattanaik, Chiranjibi, Reddy, C Sudhakar, Raju, V S (March 2010), "Piscicidal plants used by Gond tribe of Kawal wildlife sanctuary, Andhra Pradesh, India", Indian Journal of Natural Products and Resources, 1 (1): 97–101, archived from the original on 21 July 2011, retrieved 22 September 2010{{citation}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  37. Campbell, Paul (1999). Survival skills of native California. Gibbs Smith. p. 433. ISBN 978-0-87905-921-7. Archived from the original on 28 February 2022. Retrieved 20 November 2020.
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.