Alkaloid biosynthesis: metabolism and trafficking

Annu Rev Plant Biol. 2008;59:735-69. doi: 10.1146/annurev.arplant.59.032607.092730.


Alkaloids represent a highly diverse group of compounds that are related only by the occurrence of a nitrogen atom in a heterocyclic ring. Plants are estimated to produce approximately 12,000 different alkaloids, which can be organized into groups according to their carbon skeletal structures. Alkaloid biosynthesis in plants involves many catalytic steps, catalyzed by enzymes that belong to a wide range of protein families. The characterization of novel alkaloid biosynthetic enzymes in terms of structural biochemistry, molecular and cell biology, and biotechnological applications has been the focus of research over the past several years. The application of genomics to the alkaloid field has accelerated the discovery of cDNAs encoding previously elusive biosynthetic enzymes. Other technologies, such as large-scale gene expression analyses and metabolic engineering approaches with transgenic plants, have provided new insights into the regulatory architecture of alkaloid metabolism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alkaloids / biosynthesis
  • Alkaloids / chemistry
  • Alkaloids / metabolism*
  • Isoquinolines / chemistry
  • Isoquinolines / metabolism
  • Kinetics
  • Models, Molecular
  • Plant Roots / metabolism
  • Plants / metabolism*
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Alkaloids
  • Isoquinolines