Functional genomics and metabolomics advance the ethnobotany of the Samoan traditional medicine "matalafi"

Seeseei Molimau-Samasoni, Victoria Helen Woolner, Su'emalo Talie Foliga, Katharina Robichon, Vimal Patel, Sarah K. Andreassend, Jeffrey P. Sheridan, Tama Te Kawa, David Gresham, Darach Miller, Daniel J. Sinclair, Anne C. La Flamme, Alexey V. Melnik, Allegra Aron, Pieter C. Dorrestein, Paul H. Atkinson, Robert A. Keyzers, Andrew B. Munkacsi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The leaf homogenate of Psychotria insularum is widely used in Samoan traditional medicine to treat inflammation associated with fever, body aches, swellings, wounds, elephantiasis, incontinence, skin infections, vomiting, respiratory infections, and abdominal distress. However, the bioactive components and underlying mechanisms of action are unknown. We used chemical genomic analyses in the model organism Saccharomyces cerevisiae (baker's yeast) to identify and characterize an iron homeostasis mechanism of action in the traditional medicine as an unfractionated entity to emulate its traditional use. Bioactivity-guided fractionation of the homogenate identified two flavonol glycosides, rutin and nicotiflorin, each binding iron in an ion-dependent molecular networking metabolomics analysis. Translating results to mammalian immune cells and traditional application, the iron chelator activity of the P. insularum homogenate or rutin decreased proinflammatory and enhanced anti-inflammatory cytokine responses in immune cells. Together, the synergistic power of combining traditional knowledge with chemical genomics, metabolomics, and bioassay-guided fractionation provided molecular insight into a relatively understudied Samoan traditional medicine and developed methodology to advance ethnobotany.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2100880118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number45
StatePublished - Nov 9 2021


  • Chemical biology
  • Genomics
  • Iron homeostasis
  • Metabolomics
  • Traditional medicine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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