In addition to interacting with functional proteins such as receptors, ion channels, and enzymes, a variety of drugs mechanistically act on membrane lipids to change the physicochemical properties of biomembranes as reported for anesthetic, adrenergic, cholinergic, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antitumor, antiplatelet, antimicrobial, and antioxidant drugs. As well as these membrane-acting drugs, bioactive plant components, phytochemicals, with amphiphilic or hydrophobic structures, are presumed to interact with biological membranes and biomimetic membranes prepared with phospholipids and cholesterol, resulting in the modification of membrane fluidity, microviscosity, order, elasticity, and permeability with the potencies being consistent with their pharmacological effects. A novel mechanistic point of view of phytochemicals would lead to a better understanding of their bioactivities, an insight into their medicinal benefits, and a strategic implication for discovering drug leads from plants. This article reviews the membrane interactions of different classes of phytochemicals by highlighting their induced changes in membrane property. The phytochemicals to be reviewed include membrane-interactive flavonoids, terpenoids, stilbenoids, capsaicinoids, phloroglucinols, naphthodianthrones, organosulfur compounds, alkaloids, anthraquinonoids, ginsenosides, pentacyclic triterpene acids, and curcuminoids. The membrane interaction’s applicability to the discovery of phytochemical drug leads is also discussed while referring to previous screening and isolating studies.
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