A comprehensive study of the potential phytomedicinal use and toxicity of invasive Tithonia species in South Africa.
Background: Tithonia diversifolia and T. rotundifolia belong to the Asteraceae family and are native to Mexico and Central America. These plants have become invasive in parts of tropical Africa and Asia where they have become an ecological, agricultural and economic burden. Tithonia diversifolia is exploited by locals in its native and most parts of its invasive range as a source of medicines; however, T. rotundifolia is only used for medicinal purposes in one country in the native range (Venezuela) and none in the invasive range. Although T. diversifolia has been studied for different biological activities, little or no attention has been given to T. rotundifolia. This study compared the antimicrobial activity, phytochemistry, identification of bioactive compound(s) and toxicity levels of different leaf extracts and fractions of T. diversifolia and T. rotundifolia. Methods: Antimicrobial activity was evaluated against seven pathogenic bacteria, four non-pathogenic Mycobacterium species and three fungal species using serial microdilution assays. Phytochemical contents were determined through standard methods of analysis. UPLC/MS was used to analyse the fractions to identify possible bioactive compounds that may be responsible for bioactivity, while toxicity tests were carried out using the colorimetric MTT assay and the Ames test. Results: Both species had a range of antimicrobial activity against bacterial, mycobacterial and fungal species. However, T. rotundifolia displayed better activity against most of the strains tested with minimum inhibitory concentration values ranging between 0.01 and 0.07 mg/ml. Both species were rich in phenolics, flavonoids and tannins. Tagitinin A was identified as the main compound present in both species, and this compound may be responsible for the antimicrobial activity displayed. Toxicity tests showed that T. diversifolia was cytotoxic at concentrations used in this study, while T. rotundifolia was not. Both species did not show any mutagenic/genotoxic effects. Conclusion: The above results suggest that both species may be further developed as a source of antimicrobials for the treatment of infections caused by opportunistic pathogens. They may also serve as alternatives to highly exploited plant species with the same medicinal properties. However, T. diversifolia should be used with caution as it may be toxic.