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Year : 2019  |  Volume : 11  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 171-177  

Anatomical and phytochemical characterization of Physalis angulata L.: A plant with therapeutic potential

1 Bahian School of Medicine and Public Health, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil
2 Faculty of Pharmacy, Federal University of Bahia, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil
3 Biology Institute, Federal University of Bahia, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil
4 Gonçalo Moniz Institute, Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil
5 Bahian School of Medicine and Public Health; Gonçalo Moniz Institute, Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

Date of Web Publication16-Apr-2019

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Léa Maria dos Santos Lopes Ferreira
Av. Dom João Vi, No. 275, Brotas, Salvador, Bahia
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/pr.pr_97_18

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Background: Physalis angulata L. is widely used in folk medicine. Secondary metabolites with pharmacological potential, including physalins that exhibit anti-inflammatory/immunomodulatory and antiparasitic activities, have been identified in this specie. To date, few studies have investigated storage sites for secondary metabolites in P. angulata. Objective: The objective of the study is to characterize the anatomical structures and determine the phytochemical composition of the vegetative organs of P. angulata. Materials and Methods: Electron and conventional optical microscopy was used for the anatomical characterization of P angulata organs (leaves, roots, stems, and fruits). Methanolic extracts from leaves, roots, stems, and fruits were chemically characterized for the presence of steroids, terpenoids, tannins, alkaloids, saponins, flavonoids, anthraquinones, coumarins, and phenolic compounds. Phenolic compounds, flavonoid contents, and antioxidant capacity of these extracts were determined by 2,2-diphenyl-1-picrylhydrazyl-free radical scavenging activity. Results: Abaxial leaf stomata were more abundant than the adaxial stomata. Trichomes were more abundant along veins in the petioles and stems, beyond the margin in the sepals and petals, and dispersed in the ovary. Steroids and terpenoids were present in leaves, stems, and fruits of P. angulata. Saponins were exclusive to fruits. Phytochemical screening did not detect flavonoids, anthraquinones, and alkaloids in all tested plant parts. The highest antioxidant capacities were identified in leaf and fruit extracts, possibly due to the presence of phenolic compounds in these organs. Conclusion: This study describes anatomical and biochemical features from P angulata that will assist in future phytochemistry and pharmacological studies, particularly pointing toward organs abundant in antioxidants (leaves and fruits) and steroids (possibly physalins; leaves).

Keywords: Anatomy, botany, electron microscopy, photochemistry, Physalis angulata

How to cite this article:
Ferreira LM, do Vale AE, de Souza AJ, Leite KB, Sacramento C, Moreno ML, Araújo TH, Soares MB, Grassi MF. Anatomical and phytochemical characterization of Physalis angulata L.: A plant with therapeutic potential. Phcog Res 2019;11:171-7

How to cite this URL:
Ferreira LM, do Vale AE, de Souza AJ, Leite KB, Sacramento C, Moreno ML, Araújo TH, Soares MB, Grassi MF. Anatomical and phytochemical characterization of Physalis angulata L.: A plant with therapeutic potential. Phcog Res [serial online] 2019 [cited 2021 Mar 1];11:171-7. Available from: http://www.phcogres.com/text.asp?2019/11/2/171/256305


  • This work describes the anatomy and chemical composition of Physalis angulata organs and serves as a springboard for future phytochemical studies on physalins, assisting a range of fields including plant breeding and pharmacognosy.

Abbreviations Used: DPPH: 2,2-diphenyl-1- picrylhydrazyl, HTLV-1: Human T-lymphotropic virus type 1, TPC: Total phenolic content, TFC: Total flavonoid content, SEM: Scanning electron microscopy, BHA: Buthylated hydroxyanisole.

   Introduction Top

Physalis angulata L., a member of the Solanaceae family, is an annual herbaceous species distributed in tropical and subtropical areas worldwide. In Brazil, P. angulata is found in all regions and is widely used in popular medicine to treat chronic rheumatism, kidney, bladder, liver, and skin diseases, as well as for its sedative, antipyretic, and antiemetic properties.[1]

The wide range of biological activities presented by the genus Physalis is possibly due to the vast metabolic and structural diversity of compounds present in these plants. Several secondary metabolites with pharmacological properties have been identified in the genus Physalis, such as alkaloids, flavonoids, glycosides, saponins, tannins, terpenoids, physalins, and withanolides, especially a series of C28 steroidal lactones.[2],[3] Studies with secosteroids purified from extracts of P. angulata (physalins B, F, or G) or extracts prepared from roots showed potent anti-inflammatory/immunomodulatory [4] and antineoplastic [5],[6] activities. Particularly, physalin F has been identified as a substance with pharmacological potential, presenting an immunosuppressive effect on the proliferation of human T-lymphotropic virus type 1-infected cells [7] and Trypanosoma cruzi,[8] as well as antileishmanial [9] and antiplasmodial [10] activities.

Few studies have characterized the anatomical structure of P. angulata and the tissular distribution of secondary metabolites in the species. Glandular trichomes located in the epidermis of plants are important sites of synthesis, secretion, and/or storage of compounds such as terpenoids, alkaloids, and tannins.[11],[12]

To determine the secondary metabolites with pharmacological properties in P. angulata, comprehensive anatomical description and phytochemical characterizations of the vegetative organs were conducted. This work sheds light on functional aspects of the secretory structures and might contribute to improve the bioprospecting process and consequently the plant's pharmacological potential.

   Materials and Methods Top

Plant materials

Adult P. angulata individuals [Figure 1]a, [Figure 1]b, [Figure 1]c were collected in summer (November, 2017) at the Horto Florestal Experimental Unit of the Universidade Estadual de Feira de Santana (UEFS), Bahia, Brazil. Specimens were harvested at physiological maturity. A voucher specimen was deposited in the Herbarium of UEFS (Voucher number: 110448).
Figure 1: Structure of Physalis angulata L. (A) Plant parts, a: General aspect of the branch; b: Primary and secondary roots; c: Corolla in front view; d: Reproductive structures: Stamens and pistil (ovary and stigma); e: Fruit wrapped in the fruitful cup; f: Fruit; g: Seed. (B) Flower, (C) Fruit. P. angulata growing in an experimental field at the Horto Florestal Experimental Unit of the Universidade Estadual de Feira de Santana, Bahia, Brazil

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Anatomical analysis

Tissues from three P. angulata individuals were fixed in FAA70 (formaldehyde, acetic acid, and ethanol) and stored in 70% alcohol. The leaves (apex, base, and central portion), petioles, stems, and roots were embedded in methacrylate (Historesin; Leica Biosystems, Nussloch, Germany) in accordance with manufacturer's instructions and then sectioned on a rotary microtome using disposable steel razors. Sections were stained with 0.05% toluidine blue to detect cellulose and lignin in cross-sections and slides mounted with Entellan (Merck, Darmstadt, Germany). The description of anatomical structure was done according to Metcalf and Chalk.[13] The measurement of stomatal density was performed using the ANATI QUANTI software (Federal University of Viçosa, Viçosa, Minas Gerais, Brazil).[14] The paradermal sections were obtained by dissociation and stained with safranin to give contrast in the paradermal cut. The material was photographed on a QImaging Go-3 camera coupled to the Olympus BX 41 optical photomicroscope.

Crystal tests

Histochemical acid solubility was employed to characterize the anionic saline nature of the crystals, by subjecting the crystals of the test material to acetic acid A. R. (Analytical grade reagent) and hydrochloric acid 10% (v/v) aqueous in roots, stems, and leaves of P. angulata. The calcium oxalate crystals were insoluble in acetic acid and soluble in hydrochloric acid, without producing effervescence.

Phytochemical tests

Roots, stems, leaves, and fruits were separated, dried to a constant weight in a 36 ± 2°C oven (Fanem, Mod. 320-SE), and then ground in a Wiley mill (Tecnal, TE 650). Powdered samples (30 g) were extracted by maceration with 300 ml of methanol for 72 h at room temperature (30°C). The extracts were filtered (using Whatman no. 1 filter paper) and concentrated under reduced pressure using a rotate evaporator (IKA RV 10 digital) at 40 ± 2°C. The yields of the methanol extracts were between 3.1% and 9.6% by dry weight. All dry crude extracts obtained were stored at 8° C in airtight containers until analysis. A stock solution of crude extract (3.0 mg/mL) was dissolved in 10 mL of methanol for phytochemical screening. Qualitative screening for secondary metabolites such as flavonoids, coumarins, tannins, saponosides, steroids and terpenoids, anthraquinones, and alkaloids was carried out according to Trease and Evans, 1983, and Harborne, 1998.[15],[16]

Antioxidant activity

The antioxidant activity (AC) of extracts was determined using the in vitro 2,2-diphenyl-1-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH) scavenging radical method.[17] In short, serial dilutions of the extracts of parts of P. angulata were prepared in methanol (0.625, 1.25, 2.5, and 5.0 mg/mL), and 50 μl of the samples was added to 200 μl DPPH (0.2 mM) in methanol in 96-well microtiter plates. Quercetin was used as a reference/standard compound. DPPH solution and methanol served as blank. Absorbance was determined at 517 nm using a microtiter plate reader (Bio-Rad Elx 800), and the percentage of DPPH radical scavenging activity (% RSA) was calculated according to the following equation:

%RSA = 100 × ([absorbance of control-absorbance of sample]/absorbance of control).

Determination of total phenolic content

The determination of the phenolic compounds was performed with the Folin–Ciocalteu method using gallic acid as standard.[18] Briefly, 20 μL of each extract (300 mg L in methanol) was mixed with 100 μL of the Folin–Ciocalteu reagent in a microplate and shaken for 4 min followed by the addition of 75 μl of sodium carbonate (100 g/L). After a 2-h incubation in the dark at room temperature, the absorbance was measured at 750 nm on the Bio-Rad Elx 800 microplate reader. The reaction blank was prepared with distilled H2O. All assays were performed in triplicate.

Determination of total flavonoid content

Total flavonoid content (TFC) was measured using a modified spectrophotometric method, as proposed by Chatatikun and Chiabchalard.[19] Briefly, 50 μL of extracts (1000 mg/L) or quercetin was added to 10 μL of a 10% aluminum chloride solution followed by the addition of 150 μL of 95% ethanol. The blank was prepared with 80% ethanol. About 10 μL of 1 M sodium acetate was added to the mixture in a 96-well microplate and incubated for 40 min at room temperature protected from light. The absorbance was measured at 415 nm on a Bio-Rad Elx 800 microplate reader. The TFC was calculated using a quercetin standard curve. The results were expressed as mg quercetin equivalent gram of extract. All samples were analyzed in triplicate.

Scanning electron microscopy analysis

Fragments of the vegetative and reproductive parts of P. angulata were fixed with 2.0% glutaraldehyde (Electron Microscopy Sciences, Hatfield, PA, USA) in sodium cacodylate buffer (0.1 M, pH 7.2) for 1 h at room temperature. After fixation, samples were washed three times with sodium cacodylate buffer (0.1 M, pH 7.2). Cells were then postfixed with a solution of osmium tetroxide for 30 min and dehydrated in increasing concentrations of ethanol (30%, 50%, 70%, 90%, and 100%). The samples were dried until the critical point, method with CO2, mounted on aluminum stubs, metallized with gold, and analyzed in a JEOL JSM-6390 LV scanning electron microscope.

Statistical analyses

A linear regression was used for calculating IC50 values. Results were considered statistically significant when P < 0.05. All analyses were performed using Analyse-it software regression method (Leeds, United Kingdom).

   Results Top

Leaf anatomy


The leaf epidermal surfaces of P. angulata exhibit uniseriate cells with sinuous walls. The species is amphistomatic (stomata on both surfaces) with anisocytic-type stomata (surrounded by three subsidiary cells) in the epidermis presenting striated cuticle [Figure 2]a. Higher concentration of stomata was observed in the abaxial face (370.1 ± 152.8 mm 2) compared to the adaxial surface (269.2 ± 167.2 mm 2).
Figure 2: Transmission electron microscopy images of the epidermis of Physalis angulata L. Stomata in leaf (a). Tectorial trichomes in petiole (b). Trichomes aggregated on the mid-veins of petioles (c) and in stems (d). Detail of tectorial and capitate glandular trichomes (e); Distribution of trichomes on sepal (f), petal (g), and ovary (h). Detail of tectorial (i) and glandular (j) trichomes in leaf blade. STO: Stomata; TT: Tectorial trichome; GT: Glandular trichome

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A comprehensive analysis of types and quantities of trichomes in the different plant tissues was conducted. Multicellular tectorial and glandular capitate trichomes with single-celled stalks were more abundant along veins in the petioles [Figure 2]b and [Figure 2]c and stems [Figure 2]d and [Figure 2]e, beyond the margin in the sepals [Figure 2]f and petals [Figure 2]g and dispersed in the ovary [Figure 2]h. Scattered tectorial [Figure 2]i and glandular [Figure 2]j trichomes were observed in adaxial and abaxial surfaces of the leaf blade.


The mesophyll structure is characterized by a dorsiventral organization (palisade and spongy parenchyma), comprising one layer of palisade parenchyma and three layers of spongy parenchyma [Figure 3]a and [Figure 3]b. The vascular bundles were bicollateral, i.e., the xylem is found between layers of phloem [Figure 3]c. Numerous crystals of calcium oxalate, druses, were found in the mesophyll (palisade and spongy parenchyma) [Figure 3]d.
Figure 3: Anatomical details of the leaf of Physalis angulata L. Transmission electron microscopy images of palisade and spongy parenchyma with xylem and phloem (a); detail of parenchyma (b) and central vein (c). Optical microscopy of druses in mesophyll (d). EP: Epidermis; MES: Mesophyll; PP: Palisade parenchyma; SP: Spongy parenchyma; X: Xylem; Ph: Phloem; DR: Druse

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Stem anatomy

The collenchyma was angular with two layers of cells, the cortex presents three layers of cells, the stem was hollow [Figure 4]a, and numerous crystals of prismatic calcium oxalate were observed in the parenchyma [Figure 4]b.
Figure 4: Anatomical details of Physalis angulata L. Transmission electron microscopy image of collenchyma, cortex (spongy parenchyma), conducting vessels (xylem and phloem), and hollow stems (a). Prismatic crystals in the stem parenchyma (b). Transmission electron microscopy image of root (c). Prismatic crystals (d and e) and crystal sands (f) in root. EP: Epidermis; CT: Cortex; Ph: Phloem; X: Xylem; SP: Spongy parenchyma; PC: Prismatic crystals; CS: Crystal sands, PE: Periderm

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Root anatomy

The cortex exhibits about 3–4 layers of cells, and the medulla was filled with parenchyma cells [Figure 4]c. Numerous crystalline sands and crystals of prismatic calcium oxalate were observed in the cortex [Figure 4]d, [Figure 4]e, [Figure 4]f.

Phytochemical composition

The phytochemical screening of leaf, stem, root, and fruit of P. angulata revealed the presence of steroids, terpenoids, and tannins mainly in the leaf. Saponins were found only in the fruits. Flavonoids, anthraquinones, and alkaloids were absent in all parts of the plant [Table 1].
Table 1: Phytochemical constituents of methanolic extracts from different parts of Physalis angulata

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The maximum amount of total phenolic content (TPC) was observed in the root (30.63 mg GAE/g) and the lowest in the fruit (26.28 mg GAE/g) extracts [Table 2]. The equation for the gallic acid standard calibration curve was y = 0.0051x +0.0802 (R2 = 0.9988). The content of TPC followed the pattern: Root > stem > leaf > fruit.
Table 2: Total phenolic and flavonoid content present in Physalis angulata

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The leaf extract yielded the highest amounts of TFC (32.41 mg QE/g extract), whereas none was detected in roots and fruits [Table 2]. The equation for the quercetin standard calibration curve was y = 0.0056x + 0.0473 (R2 = 0.9982).

The highest AC was found in leaf and fruit extracts of P. angulata [Table 3].
Table 3: Half maximal inhibitory concentration values of 2,2-diphenyl-1-picrylhydrazyl-free radical scavenging activity of extracts of Physalis angulata

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   Discussion Top

To date, only a few anatomical studies have been reported on P. angulata and these are exclusively based on optical microscopy.[20],[21],[22] In this work, a comprehensive anatomical description of P. angulata was performed using scanning electron microscopy analysis. In agreement with previous reports on P. angulata, stomata were found in both faces of the leaf epidermis, with a higher number in the abaxial face.[22],[23] The stomata was anisocytic and protrusive, diverging from other reports that found sporadically anomocytic stomata.[20]

Glandular trichomes are crucial in the production of chemicals. In this study, glandular capitate and tectorial trichomes were observed on the mid-veins of petioles and the stems. This pattern of distribution is present in the Solanaceae Withania somnifera and has been associated with the protection of the underlying vasculature [24] and to an improved access to nutrients and chemicals originated from the vascular bundles. Within Solanaceae, alkaloids and phenolic compounds are synthesized in the roots and transported to the leaves. Glandular trichomes are therefore located on mid-veins for easy sequestration of these compounds.[24]

The parenchyma of leaf, stem, and root was similar to that previously described for P. angulata.[20] Regarding the vascular structures, bicollateral bundles were found in leaves and stems, as reported previously for Solanaceae.[25] However, the stem was hollow in all evaluated parts (apex, middle, and base), which contradicts a previous report of solid stem.[21]

Several oxalate crystals in the form of druses were found in the parenchyma of leaves and in the cortex of P. angulata stems, while crystals with a prismatic shape were present mainly in the root cortex. The formation of crystals is a physiological process that regulates the calcium dynamics in plants and has an additional role in the protection against herbivores and in the detoxification of several heavy metals.[26] Prismatic crystals have been reported in the leaves of other species of Solanaceae, such as tomato and tobacco.[27]

The chemical composition of plant extracts found among species of Solanaceae varies both in quality and in quantity.[28] Determining the phytochemical tissue, composition of a species improves compound isolation procedures and bioprospection. The presence of secondary metabolites in parts of P. angulata was determined. Steroids, terpenoids, and tannins were present mainly in leaves of P. angulata [Table 1].

These results corroborate phytochemical studies that revealed withanolides (steroids) and chemotaxonomic markers in Solanaceae.[29] The withanolides are the main secondary metabolites in Physalis spp. with almost 60 types synthesized, especially physalins, ixocarpalactones, and acnistins.[28],[30] The biological proprieties of withanolides include action against tumor cells,[5],[6],[31] parasites such as T. cruzi[8] and Leishmania,[9] and in addition to antimicrobial,[32] immunomodulatory/anti-inflammatory activities.[4],[33] Other common steroids such as β-sitosterol, stigmasterol, campesterol, and methylene-cholesterol can also be found in Physalis spp.[34]

The alkaloids are abundant in Solanaceae, particularly tropane, steroidal, indole, pyrrolidine, and imidazole variants.[29] The isolation and identification of alkaloids in Physalis can be challenging. The isolation and identification of the alkaloids such as N-trans-feruloyltyramine, N-p-coumaroyltyramine, and phygrine have been reported in at least one species of the genus (P. alkekengi var. franchetii).[4],[28],[35] In the present study, however, alkaloids were not detected in any investigated parts [Table 1]. This suggests that the concentrations of alkaloids in P. angulata might be very low and thus not detectable by the method employed or, alternatively, that these plants do not synthesize this class of chemicals.

The present study identified terpenoids in leaves of P. angulata. Terpenoids are essential for plant survival. These compounds have been associated with antimicrobial, antifungal, antiparasitic, antiviral, antihyperglycemic, antihypoglycemic, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulatory properties.[36] Except for carotenoids, terpenoids are rare in P. angulata; in contrast, two studies have isolated labdane diterpenoids from Physalis coztomatl and Pitcairnia sordida.[37],[38]

The presence of terpenoids in trichomes has been well documented in Solanaceae [39],[40],[41] as well as other plant families including Lamiaceae [42] and Asteraceae.[43] Other species such as Petunia hybrida accumulate functional (insecticidal) steroidal compounds in trichomes.[44] Therefore, it is possible that glandular trichomes in P. angulata harbor the site for the synthesis of terpenoid-derived physalins.[20] This study found that trichomes in P. angulata are in lower numbers as compared with other species of Physalis (Physalis peruviana and Physalis pubescens) or other Solanaceae.[20],[21] Genetic engineering would be alternative to increase trichome density on P. angulata[40],[45] and consequently physalin production. This approach has been successfully used in transgenic canola.[45],[46] This highlights the importance of anatomical studies coupled to phytochemical characterization in the plant with therapeutic potential.

Phenolic compounds (including flavonoids) may react with free radicals in the cell, conferring antioxidant properties that have the potential to inhibit pathological and degenerative processes, such as cancer. The amount of total phenolic and flavonoid compounds, as well as the antioxidant capacity found in the present study, was slightly lower than those reported previously [Table 4].
Table 4: Values of phenolic and flavonoid contents and antioxidant capacity found in reference studies

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A comparison of the absolute values among these studies is limited due to methodological differences in compound quantification, extract production, as well as types of plant parts studied. Previously, P. angulata extracts were shown to have relevant AC, presenting an antitumor effect on human oral cancer cells [50] and on intestinal inflammation in a rat model.[51] A mechanism for the possible inhibition of carcinogenesis by phenolic compounds remains unclear; however, the antioxidant properties might play an important role blocking the molecular events involved in all stages of cancer development.[52] In this study, the highest antioxidant capacity was identified in extracts obtained from leaves and fruits of P. angulata. The antioxidant capacity is positively associated with the amount of phenolic, flavonoid, and aromatic compounds present in a given extract. Interestingly, flavonoids were not detected in fruits and roots, and this is consistent with findings from Medina–Medrano et al.[47] which were also unable to detect flavonoids in fruits of P. angulata [Table 4]. Thus, other compounds might be responsible for the antioxidant capacity observed in these extracts. The extracts that presented the greatest antioxidant activities were precisely those that show greater phenolic content. Phenolic contents or antioxidant capacity in species of Physalis has been mainly focused on fruits. For example, goldenberry (fruit of P. peruviana) is one of the most promising tropical fruits for its medicinal and edible uses.[47],[48],[49],[53]

   Conclusion Top

In summary, the anatomical analysis of P. angulata presents new and relevant information regarding the distribution of tectorial and glandular trichomes in the petioles, stems, sepals, and petals. These structures might be the site of production and accumulation of physalins, potentially the most useful compound in this plant. P. angulata antioxidant properties confirm the therapeutic potential of this plant. The current findings may support future breeding programs and biotechnological approaches for the optimization of useful compound production from P. angulata.


This study was supported by the Fundação de Amparo a Pesquisa da Bahia (FAPESB). The authors are grateful for the electronic microscopy platform of the Gonçalo Moniz Institute (Fiocruz) for technical assistance and to Professor Claudinéia Regina Pelacani Cruz (UEFS) for assigning the individuals of P. angulata and Romeu da Silva Leite, Gustavo Surlo Nascimento for providing the photos and illustration of P. angulata., respectively We also thank Dr. Fred Luciano Neves Santos for pictorial abstract.

Financial support and sponsorship

This study was financially supported by the FAPESB.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

   References Top

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  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4]

  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4]


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