The aim of the course is to provide an overview of the most important classes of natural products that are used medicinally, that have been used as lead compound for synthetic agents, or that occur in medicinal plants. Because many natural products have a very complex structure, much attention is paid to their building blocks and the biosynthetic mechanisms. In this way the students can obtain a fundamental insight in the origins of such complex structures. It is NOT the intention of the course to memorise structural formulae, or to reproduce these based on the name of the compound. The students should be able to reconstruct biosynthetically how the molecule is built from its building blocks, and to explain the corresponding synthetic mechanisms. The structure is the starting point to discuss the medicinal activity of a natural product or preparation.
After a short introduction on the terms pharmacognosy and phytochemistry, primary and secondary metabolism, the natural products possessing medicinal properties are discussed in a systematic way, based on their biosynthetic building blocks. In the first part of the course products built from acetate units (fatty acids and polyketides) are discussed, followed by derivatives of shikimic acid, and their combination products. The second part comprises the terpenes, and the third part the alkaloids. In each group the most important products are dealt with: their occurrence, biosynthesis, pharmacological properties, and medicinal use. In each class some typical compounds are discussed.
Practical exercises: the student learns how to identify a raw material from plant origin, exemplified by a selection of some important starting materials. Macroscopic (for dried materials) as well as microscopic (for powders) identifications are carried out.