Classification - Drugs Containing Tannins

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Chapter: Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry : Drugs Containing Tannins

The tannin compounds can be divided into two major groups on the basis of Goldbeater’s skin test. A group of tannins showing the positive tanning test may be regarded as true tannins.................




The tannin compounds can be divided into two major groups on the basis of Goldbeater’s skin test. A group of tannins showing the positive tanning test may be regarded as true tannins, whereas those, which are partly retained by the hide powder and fail to give the test, are called as pseudotannins.


Most of the true tannins are high molecular weight compounds. These compounds are complex polyphenolics, which are produced by polymerization of simple polyphenols. They may form complex glycosides or remains as such which may be observed by their typical hydrolytic reaction with the mineral acids and enzymes. Two major chemical classes of tannins are usually recognized based on this hydrolytic reaction and nature of phenolic nuclei involved in the tannins structure. The first class is referred to as hydrolysable tannins, whereas the other class is termed as condensed tannins.


Hydrolysable Tannins


As the name implies, these tannins are hydrolysable by mineral acids or enzymes such as tannase. Their structures involve several molecules of polyphenolic acids such as gallic, hexahydrodiphenic, or ellagic acids, bounded through ester linkages to a central glucose molecule. On the basis of the phenolic acids produced after the hydrolysis, they are further categorized under gallotannins composed of gallic acid or ellagitannins which contains hexahydrodiphenic acid which after intraesterification produces ellagic acid.


Hydrolysable tannins are sometimes referred to as pyrogallol tannins as the components of phenolic acids on dry distillation are converted to pyrogallol derivatives. The hydrolysable tannins are soluble in water, and their solution produces blue colour with ferric chloride.



Nonhydrolysable or Condensed Tannins


Condensed tannins, unlike the previously explained group are not readily hydrolysable to simpler molecules with mineral acids and enzymes, thus they are also referred to as nonhydrolysable tannins. The term proanthocyanidins is sometimes alternatively used for these tannins. The compounds containing condensed tannins contain only phenolic nuclei which are biosynthetically related to flavonoids. Catechin which is found in tannins is flavan-3-o1, whereas leucoanthocyanidins are flavan-3,4-diol structures. These phenolics are frequently linked to carbohydrates or protein molecules to produce more complex tannin com-pounds. When treated with acids or enzymes, they tend to polymerize yielding insoluble red coloured products known as phlobaphens. The phlobaphens give characteristic red colour to many drugs such as cinchona and wild cherry bark. On dry distillation, they yield catechol derivatives. Condensed tannins are also soluble in water and produces green colour with ferric chloride.


The families of the plants rich in both of the above groups of tannins include Rosaceae, Geraniaceae, Leguminosae, Combretaceae, Rubiaceae, Polygonaceae, Theaceae, etc. The members of families Cruciferae and Papaveraceae on the other hand are totally devoid of tannins. In the plants in which tannins are present, they exert an inhibitory effect on many enzymes due to their nature of protein precipitation and therefore contribute a protective function in barks and heartwood.





Pseudotannins are simple phenolic compounds of lower molecular weight. They do not respond to the tanning reaction of Goldbeater’s skin test. Gallic acid, Chlorogenic acid, or the simple phenolics such as catechin are pseudotannins which are abundantly found in plants, especially in dead tissues and dying cells.


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