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Abstract: Alkaloid applications can be found in different areas. Some alkaloids are still used in modern medicine today as natural or modified compounds. Their use is connected to the regulation of Na+ ions and channels, mescaric, cholinergic receptor, acetylcholine esterase, opioid and opiate receptors, glycine and other receptors, as well as the regulation of micro-tubules of the spindle apparatus. Moreover, alkaloids are used in the regulation of microbial and schizonticide activity and as pharmaceuticals. Alkaloids are also generally a problem in food; there are some applications in agriculture, especially in plant breeding (alkaloid-rich and alkaloid-poor cultivars). Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be considered to hold possibilities for vaccine development, especially in plants. Some alkaloids are used in food receptors as additional components or are consumed as a part of the final product (caffeine, theophylline, piperine, capsaicin). The use of alkaloids as a supplement in some products on the market is presently a matter of discussion, as they are considered a health risk (the case of ephedrine). Alkaloids can be used as biological fertilizers and as control agents in plant protection. Biotechnology opens new possibilities of alkaloid applications. The productional achievements are found in cell and organ cultures. The most well-known applications in root cultures are with anabasine, nicotine, harmine, harmaline, hyoscyamine, calyste-gine, scopolamine and senecionine. Alkaloidal enzymes can be purified from these cultures.

Key words: agriculture, alkaloids, biofertilizers, biotechnology, channels, drugs, food, ions, medicine, plant protection, production, receptors, root cultures

Alkaloidal applications can be found in different areas of the economy, industry, trade and services. The applicable characteristics of alkaloids are both chemical ones and the ability to be isolated as pure molecules or to be modified. The specific activity and utilization is a basis for the applications. Alkaloids have been used throughout history in folk medicine in different regions around the world. They have been a constituent part of plants used in phytotherapy. Generally speaking, many of the plants that contain alkaloids are just medicinal plants and have been used as herbs. From the times of Hippocrates (460-377 BCE), herbs were known in Europe as a very important way of improving health. In ancient China, herbs were known and used even since 770 BCE, and in Mesopotamia approximately since 2000 BCE. In Mesopotamia alone, plants such as Papaver somniferum and Atropa belladonna have served a purpose, and the use of Datura metel, Cannabis sativa and the mushroom Amanita muscaria can be traced to ancient India. Moreover, plants containing alkaloids have been historically used for other purposes. Hunters, priests, medicine men, witches and magicians have all been known to use alkaloidal plants. Humans have used alkaloids as poisons in weapons581. The most poisonous alkaloids such as aconitine and tubocarine were used in ancient time as poisons for arrows. Especially in Africa, these weapons have been used in tribal warfare, where the poisons (alkaloids) were generally prepared from plants but also from animal sources as toads, snakes and frogs582 583. Poisoned arrows have also been used in Asia, especially in the large region including Indonesia, Burma, Thailand and Cambodia. Three methods were used in preparing poisons583 584. The first involved boiling arrows in water with a ground up plant. The second method used pounded fresh ingredients with glutinous sap added (especially in the case of oil-rich plants). The third method involved applying freshly squeezed plant material onto wooden-tipped arrows. Literature also refers to the fact that different alkaloid groups have been used as arrow poisons in different parts of the world. People in Africa and Asia predominantly used cardiac poisons, while South Americans almost exclusively preferred muscle-paralyzing (curarizing)


Alkaloids and especially plants containing alkaloids were also used in the Middle Ages as a basic and practical human and animal cure for various ailments. Some cases of using alkaloids in executions are also known321,581,582,585,586. Some alkaloids that have played an important role in this sense include aconi-tine, atropine, colchicine, coniine, ephedrine, ergotamine, mescaline, morphine, strychnine, psilocin and psilocybin. Although alkaloids have been used throughout history, their isolation from plants as relatively pure compounds occurred only in the beginning of the 1800s, and their exact molecule structures were not determined until the 1900s.

1. Medicinal applications

Some alkaloids (Table 23) are still used in medicine today586,587,588,589,590. They are used as natural or modified compounds. They can also be totally synthesized based on the model of the natural molecule. Alkaloidal application in clinical practice is connected with biological activity in human and animal bodies (Figure 92).

Table 23 The most important alkaloids used in modern medicine

Alkaloid Name

Example of Natural Source


Aconitum napellus


Catharanthus roseus


Atropa belladonna


Berberis vulgaris


Peumus boldo


Coffea spp., Cola spp.


Catha edulis


Erythroxylon coca


Papaver somniferum


Colchicum autumnale


Cephaelis acuminate


Ephedra sinica


Claviceps purpurea


Physostigma venenosum


Galanthus nivalis


Hydrastis canadiensis


Duboisia, Datura, Hyoscyamus spp.


Atropa belladonna


Lobelia inflata


Papaver somniferum


Papaver somniferum


Nicotiana spp.


Papaver somniferum


Papaver somniferum


Pilocarpus spp.


Cinchona spp.


Cinchona spp.


Rauvolfia spp.


Rauvolfia serpentina


Sanguinaria canadiensis


Cytisus scoparius*


Strychnos nux-vomica


Taxus brevifolia


Theobroma cacao




Chondodendron tomentosum


Catharanthus roseus


Vinca minor


Catharanthus roseus


Rauvolfia spp.

Notes: a Physostigmine as synonymous name; b Scopolamine as synonymous name; c Narcotine as synonymous name; * In small concentrations in many species especially in Lupinus spp. The main alkaloid in Cytisus scoparius; ** Low concentrations in natural sources. Synthetical theophy-line is used.

Notes: a Physostigmine as synonymous name; b Scopolamine as synonymous name; c Narcotine as synonymous name; * In small concentrations in many species especially in Lupinus spp. The main alkaloid in Cytisus scoparius; ** Low concentrations in natural sources. Synthetical theophy-line is used.

Physostigmine Effect Illustration
Figure 92. General diagram of alkaloidal applications in clinical practice.

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