Pharmacological Potential of Sea Cucumbers

Deep Sea Diamond News   •   April 1, 2020

This review presents a detailed analysis of published research data focused on the pharmacologicalactivity exerted by biologically active compounds isolated from sea cucumbers belonging to the classof Holothuroidea, phylum Echinodermata. The review contains descriptions of the structure, physico-chemical properties and pharmacological effects of these active substances. Particular attention is givento compounds with anticoagulant, antithrombotic, antioxidant, anticancer, anti-infectious, immune-stimulating and anti-ACE (angiotensin converting enzyme) activities as well as to the substancesexerting a regulating influence on lipid and carbohydrate metabolism. All these compounds may beconsidered as prototypes for development of new pharmaceutical substances and medicines.

  • The first study suggesting anticancer properties of biologically active compounds found in seacucumbers was the article authored by Nigelli in 1952 [56] demonstrating that an injection of aglycoside fraction from sea cucumber Actinopyga agassizi consisting of a number of triterpeneglycosides (holothurins) into a sarcoma-180 node inhibited tumor growth in mice. Later, it was shownthat healthy mice injected with Krebs-2 ascitic tumor cells and treated with holothurin preventedinduction of the tumor growth [57]. Holothurin was also shown to inhibit growth of epidermalcarcinoma cells [58].

  • One of the most hazardous problems in the treatment of infectious diseases is drug resistance, whichdevelops in almost all human pathogens reducing efficacy of treatment and posing serious threats topublic health. That is why the search for new antimicrobial agents from various natural sources isalways important and marine species are considered the most promising ones. Administration ofglycosaminoglycans, in particular, heparin, have been proposed to prevent malaria as they can inhibitcytoadhesion of the malaria plasmodium to the capillary and postcapillary endothelium cells as well asto placental trophoblasts, block invasion of parasites and disrupt rosettes, the morphological phenotypeof plasmodium progression forming the binding of infected erythrocytes to noninfected ones.Unfortunately, heparin possesses various adverse effects including a high risk of contamination becausemost glycosaminoglycans are isolated from mammal species. Therefore, the use of the heparin-basedtherapy is quite difficult. One possible solution may be using compounds with similar pharmacologicalproperties from other sources, such as sea cucumbers.
  • In some studies protein hydrolysates from holothurians by enzyme hydrolysis of the fresh seacucumbers were explored for antibacterial activity against pathogenic Gram positive and Gramnegative strains. The result showed quite low efficacy for pure holothurian peptides used asantibacterial agents in comparison with common synthetic antibacterial drugs [116]. At the same time,protein hydrolysates from sea cucumbers are considered a promising non-toxic and safe alternativenatural source to chemical food preservatives.