Gynura cass., belonging to the tribe Senecoineae of the family Compositae, contains more than 40 accepted species as annual or perennial herbs, mainly distributed in Asia, Africa and Australia. Among them, 11 species are distributed in China. Many of the Gynura species have been used as traditional herbal medicines for the treatment of diabetes mellitus, rheumatism, eruptive fever, gastric ulcer, bleeding, abscesses, bruises, burning pains, rashes and herpes zoster infection in tropical Asia countries such as China, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam. Some of the species have been used as vegetables, tea beverage or ornamental plants by the local people.
A more comprehensive and in-depth review about the geographical distribution, traditional uses, chemical constituents and pharmacological activities as well as safe and toxicity of Gynura species has been summarized, hoping to provide a scientific basis for rational development and utilization as well as to foster further research of these important medicinal plant resources in the future.
A review of the literature was performed based on the existing peer-reviewed researches by consulting scientific databases including Web of Science, PubMed, Elsevier, Google Scholar, SciFinder and China National Knowledge Infrastructure.
Many of the Gynura species have been phytochemically studied, which led to the isolation of more than 338 compounds including phenolics, flavonoids, alkaloids, terpenoids, steroids, cerebrosides, aliphatics and other compounds. Pharmacological studies in vitro and in vivo have also confirmed the various bioactive potentials of extracts or pure compounds from many Gynura plants, based on their claimed ethnomedicinal and anecdotal uses, including antioxidant, anti-inflammation, anticancer, antidiabetic, antihypertension, antibacterial and other activities. However, pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) pose a threat to the medication safety and edible security of Gynura plants because of toxicity issues, requiring the need to pay great attention to this phenomenon.
The traditional uses, phytochemistry and pharmacology of Gynura species described in this review demonstrated that these plants contain a great number of active constituents and display a diversity of pharmacological activities. However, the mechanism of action, structure-activity relationship, potential synergistic effects and pharmacokinetics of these components need to be further elucidated. Moreover, further detailed research is urgently needed to explain the mechanisms of toxicity induced by PAs. In this respect, effective detoxification strategies need to be worked out, so as to support the safe and reasonable utilization of Gynura plant resources in the future.

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