Artemisinins have become essential antimalarial drugs for increasingly widespread drug-resistant malaria strains. Although tremendous efforts have been devoted to decipher how this class of molecules works, their exact antimalarial mechanism is still an enigma. Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain their actions, including alkylation of heme by carbon-centered free radicals, interference with proteins such as the sarcoplasmic/endoplasmic calcium ATPase (SERCA), as well as damaging of normal mitochondrial functions. Besides artemisinins, other endoperoxides with various backbones have also been synthesized, some of which showed comparable or even higher antimalarial effects. It is noteworthy that among these artemisinin derivatives, some enantiomers displayed similar in vitro
malaria killing efficacy. In this article, the proposed mechanisms of action of artemisinins are reviewed in light of medicinal chemistry findings characterized by efficacy-structure studies, with the hope of gaining more insight into how these potent drugs work.