The functional diversity of chemicals within plants is best demonstrated by ter-penoids. More than 30,000 terpenoids [72] have been identified. The terpenes have a simple unifying feature by which they are defined and by which they may be easily classified. This generality, referred to as the isoprene rule, was postulated by Otto Wallach in 1887. This rule describes all terpenes as having fundamental repeating 5-carbon isoprene units [73]. Thus, terpenes are defined as a unique group of hydrocarbon-based natural products that possess a structure that may be hypo-thetically derived from isoprene, giving rise to structures that may be divided into isopentane (2-methylbutane) units.

The actual biosynthesis route to terpenes is not so simple. Two different biosyn-thetic pathways produce the main terpene building block, isopentenyl diphosphate (IPP). The first classical biosynthetic route is known as the MVA (mevalonic acid) pathway. This takes place in the cytosol, producing sesquiterpenes [54,76]. It is now known that the actual 5-carbon building blocks in vivo are the interconvertible isomers isopentenyl pyrophosphate (IPP) and dimethylallyl pyrophosphate (DMAPP). These two building blocks are condensed together in a sequential fashion by the o o^ visnagin


O ^o umbelliferone HO ^ n umbelliferone HO ^ n



trans- anethole

ho o ho eugenol ho biochanin-A


daidzein oh oh

oh o silybin coumestrol Fig. 2.6 Phenols oh o silybin

ho oh action of enzymes called prenyltransferases. The products include geranyl, farnesyl and geranyl geranyl pyrophosphate, squalene and phytoene, which are the direct precursors of the major families of terpenes. The key intermediate in the process was mevalonic acid (MVA), a 6-carbon compound. MVA is formed by the enzymatic reduction of the 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A (HMG-CoA), which in turn is formed by the head-to-tail condensation of three molecules of acetate. MVA is enzymatically converted to IPP with the loss of carbon dioxide, and subsequently IPP and DMAPP are incorporated directly into cholesterol.

The second biosynthesis route to terpenes is referred to as either the MEP (methylerythriol-4-phosphate) or DOX (1-deoxy-D-xylulose) pathway [74]. When first discovered, this new plastid-bound pathway was distinct biochemically and was identical to that found in bacteria and probably is a legacy of prokaryotic endosymbiotic ancestors [75]. In this case, IPP is derived, not from MVA, but from 1-deoxyxylulose 5-phosphate (1-DXP), formed from the glycolytic intermediates glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate and pyruvate. The key step in the biosynthesis is the skeletal rearrangement and reduction of 1-DXP to form 2C-methylerythritol 4-phosphate (MEP) using the biological reducing agent NADPH as cofactor. MEP is converted to IPP via a chemical sequence involving the removal of three molecules of water. Thus, in higher plants, there are two pathways for generating terpenes. Here, IPP is formed in the chloroplast, mainly for the synthesis of more volatile mono- and diterpenes (Fig. 2.7). The evidence indicates that there may be sharing of intermediates across these pathways, a sort of biosynthetic crosstalk [77]. Various classes of terpenes classified by the number of 5-carbon units are given in Fig. 2.8. In plants, the MEP pathway leads to monoterpenes, diterpenes, the prenyl side chains of chlorophylls and carotenoids as well as to the phytohormones such as abscisic acid, gibberellins and trans-cytokinins. The first of the seven enzymatic steps of the MEP pathway is catalysed by the enzyme 1-deoxy-D-xylulose 5-phosphate synthase [54]. The monoterpenoids are major components of many essential oils and are economically important as fragrances and perfumes. Common acyclic compounds include myrcene, geraniol and linalool. Cyclic structures include menthol, camphor, pinene and limonene (Fig. 2.8).

Sesquiterpenes, C15 or compounds having 3-isoprene units, exist in aliphatic bicyclic and tricyclic frameworks. A member of this series, farnesol, is a key intermediate in terpenoid biosynthesis. Arteether is derived from artemisinin, a sesquiterpene lactone isolated from Artemisia annua, and currently used as an an-timalarial drug (Fig. 2.8). Several derivatives of artemisinin are in various stages of clinical trials as antimalarial drugs in Europe [78] and as antineoplastic agents (see Chap.11).

The diterpenes are not considered essential oils and constitute a component of plant resins because of their higher boiling point. These are composed of four iso-prene units. Gibberellic acid, a plant growth regulator, and taxol are diterpenes.

Triterpenes, C30 compounds, are composed of six isoprene units and are biosyn-thetically derived from squalene. These are high-melting-point colourless solids and constitute a component of resins, cork and cutin. Triterpenoids produce several

pharmacologically active groups such as steroids, saponins and cardiac glycosides. Azadirachtin, a powerful insect antifeedent, is obtained from seeds of Azadirachta indica. Other triterpenes include the limonins and the cucurbitacins, which are potent insect steroid hormone antagonists [79].

All plant steroids hydroxylated at C3 are sterols. Steroids are modified triter-penes and have profound importance as hormones (androgens such as testosterone and estrogens such as progesterone), coenzymes and provitamins in animals. Many progesterones are derived semisynthetically from diosgenin. Saponins are C27 steroids widely distributed in monocot families like Liliaceae, Amaryllidaceae and Dioscoreaceae, and in dicot families, e.g. Scrophulariaceace and Solanaceace. Saponins are composed of two parts: the glycone (sugar) and the aglycone or genin (triterpene). Commercially important preparations based on saponins include sarsaparilla root (Sarsaparilla), licorice (Glycerrhiza glabra), ivy leaves (Hedera), primula root (Primula) and ginseng (Panax ginseng). The ammonium and calcium salt of glycyrrhizic acid are referred to as glycyrrhizins. They are 50 to 100 times sweeter than sucrose [80].

Isoprene unit isoprene

Hemiterpenes C5

senecioic acid

Monoterpenes C

a-pinene linalool linalool

Sesquiterpene C



isoamyl alcohol geraniol

safranal safranal


Fig. 2.8 Basic building unit and various classes of terpenes


Diterpene C20





Triterpene C






ginsenoside rb2

Fig. 2.8 (continued)

ginsenoside rb2

Fig. 2.8 (continued)

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Essential Aromatherapy

Essential Aromatherapy

Have you always wanted to know what is aromatherapy? Here are some invaluable information on aromatherapy. I leave absolutely nothing out! Everything that I learned in order to improve my life with aromatherapy I share with you.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment