During the last decade, research into natural products has experienced a certain renaissance. The urgent need for more and more effective antibiotics in medicine, the demand for ecologically friendly plant protectants in agriculture, “natural” cosmetics and the issue of a sustainable and healthy nutrition in an ageing society have fuelled research into Nature’s treasure chest of “green gold”. Here, redox active secondary metabolites from plants, fungi, bacteria and other (micro-)organisms often have been at the forefront of the most interesting developments. These agents provide powerful means to interfere with many, probably most cellular signaling pathways in humans, animals and lower organisms, and therefore can be used to protect, i.e.
, in form of antioxidants, and to frighten off or even kill, i.e.
, in form of repellants, antibiotics, fungicides and selective, often catalytic “sensor/effector” anticancer agents. Interestingly, whilst natural product research dates back many decades, in some cases even centuries, and compounds such as allicin and various flavonoids have been investigated thoroughly in the past, it has only recently become possible to investigate their precise interactions and mode(s) of action inside living cells. Here, fluorescent staining and labelling on the one side, and appropriate detection, either qualitatively under the microscope or quantitatively in flow cytometers and plate readers, on the other, enable researchers to obtain the various pieces of information necessary to construct a fairly complete puzzle of how such compounds act and interact in living cells. Complemented by the more traditional activity assays and Western Blots, and increasingly joined by techniques such as proteomics, chemogenetic screening and mRNA profiling, these cell based bioanalytical techniques form a powerful platform for “intracellular diagnostics”. In the case of redox active compounds, especially of Reactive Sulfur Species (RSS), such techniques have recently unraveled concepts such as the “cellular thiolstat”, yet considerably more research is required in order to gain a full understanding of why and how such compounds act—often selectively—in different organisms.
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