Tissue distribution, core biosynthesis and diversification of pyrrolizidine alkaloids of the lycopsamine type in three Boraginaceae species

Phytochemistry. 2007 Apr;68(7):1026-37. doi: 10.1016/j.phytochem.2007.01.002. Epub 2007 Feb 22.


Three species of the Boraginaceae were studied: greenhouse-grown plants of Heliotropium indicum and Agrobacterium rhizogenes transformed roots cultures (hairy roots) of Cynoglossum officinale and Symphytum officinale. The species-specific pyrrolizidine alkaloid (PA) profiles of the three systems were established by GC-MS. All PAs are genuinely present as N-oxides. In H. indicum the tissue-specific PA distribution revealed the presence of PAs in all tissues with the highest levels in the inflorescences which in a flowering plant may account for more than 70% of total plant alkaloid. The sites of PA biosynthesis vary among species. In H. indicum PAs are synthesized in the shoot but not roots whereas they are only made in shoots for C. officinale and in roots of S. officinale. Classical tracer studies with radioactively labelled precursor amines (e.g., putrescine, spermidine and homospermidine) and various necine bases (trachelanthamidine, supinidine, retronecine, heliotridine) and potential ester alkaloid intermediates (e.g., trachelanthamine, supinine) were performed to evaluate the biosynthetic sequences. It was relevant to perform these comparative studies since the key enzyme of the core pathway, homospermidine synthase, evolved independently in the Boraginaceae and, for instance, in the Asteraceae [Reimann, A., Nurhayati, N., Backenkohler, A., Ober, D., 2004. Repeated evolution of the pyrrolizidine alkaloid-mediated defense system in separate angiosperm lineages. Plant Cell 16, 2772-2784.]. These studies showed that the core pathway for the formation of trachelanthamidine from putrescine and spermidine via homospermidine is common to the pathway in Senecio ssp. (Asteraceae). In both pathways homospermidine is further processed by a beta-hydroxyethylhydrazine sensitive diamine oxidase. Further steps of PA biosynthesis starting with trachelanthamidine as common precursor occur in two successive stages. Firstly, the necine bases are structurally modified and either before or after this modification are converted into their O(9)-esters by esterification with one of the stereoisomers of 2,3-dihydroxy-2-isopropylbutyric acid, the unique necic acid of PAs of the lycopsamine type. Secondly, the necine O(9)-esters may be further diversified by O(7)- and/or O(3')-acylation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Boraginaceae / chemistry*
  • Boraginaceae / genetics
  • Boraginaceae / metabolism
  • Carbon Radioisotopes
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Models, Chemical
  • Molecular Structure
  • Plant Roots / chemistry*
  • Plant Roots / cytology
  • Plant Roots / metabolism
  • Plants, Genetically Modified
  • Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids / chemistry*
  • Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids / metabolism
  • Species Specificity


  • Carbon Radioisotopes
  • Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids
  • indicine