Metabolism of the Catharanthus alkaloids: from Streptomyces griseus to monoamine oxidase B

J Nat Prod. 1992 Mar;55(3):269-84. doi: 10.1021/np50081a001.


More than three decades after their discovery and implementation in medicine, essentially nothing is known about the metabolism or the implications of metabolism in mechanism of action or toxicity of the Catharanthus alkaloids. The frustrating paucity of information about pathways of metabolism has limited a major source of structure-activity relationship information and has blocked a critical avenue necessary for the logical development of new and more useful Catharanthus alkaloids. Microbial transformations, peroxidases, copper oxidases, mouse and rat cytochrome P-450 systems, and mouse brain and bovine liver monoamine oxidase (MAO) preparations have been explored in the study of Catharanthus alkaloid metabolism. In this report, we present results which have clarified the involvement of enzymatic and chemically catalyzed one-electron oxidations that yield nitrogen-centered cation radicals, iminium, and carbinolamine intermediates, all of which explain how new carbon-carbon and carbon-oxygen bonds form, or break and rearrange. The dimeric Catharanthus alkaloids are recalcitrant to oxidations catalyzed by monoamine oxidases and to both normal and induced P-450 rat microsomal preparations. However, the Catharanthus alkaloids appear to be selective reversible inhibitors of MAO-B. Chemical and biochemical aspects of the metabolic transformations of dimeric Catharanthus alkaloids are reviewed together with the implications of our findings.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Monoamine Oxidase / metabolism*
  • Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Vinca Alkaloids / metabolism*
  • Vinca Alkaloids / pharmacology


  • Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors
  • Vinca Alkaloids
  • Monoamine Oxidase