A large-scale in vitro screening of tropical plants using an antibacterial assay permitted the selection of several species with significant antibacterial activities. Bioassay-guided purification of the dichloromethane extract of the leaves of the Malaysian species Vitex vestita, led to the isolation of six new labdane-type diterpenoids, namely, 12-epivitexolide A (2), vitexolides B and C (3 and 4), vitexolide E (8), and vitexolins A and B (5 and 6), along with six known compounds, vitexolides A (1) and D (7), acuminolide (9), 3β-hydroxyanticopalic acid (10), 8α-hydroxyanticopalic acid (11), and 6α-hydroxyanticopalic acid (12). Their structures were elucidated on the basis of 1D and 2D NMR analyses and HRMS experiments. Both variable-temperature NMR spectroscopic studies and chemical modifications were performed to investigate the dynamic epimerization of the γ-hydroxybutenolide moiety of compounds 1-4. Compounds were assayed against a panel of 46 Gram-positive strains. Vitexolide A (1) exhibited the most potent antibacterial activity with minimal inhibitory concentration values ranging from 6 to 96 μM, whereas compounds 2 and 6-9 showed moderate antibacterial activity. The presence of a β-hydroxyalkyl-γ-hydroxybutenolide subunit contributed significantly to antibacterial activity. Compounds 1-4 and 6-9 showed cytotoxic activities against the HCT-116 cancer cell line (1 < IC50s < 10 μM) and human fetal lung fibroblast MRC5 cell line (1 < IC50s < 10 μM for compounds 1, 2, 7, 8, and 9).
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