Cyanogenesis in plants and arthropods

Phytochemistry. 2008 May;69(7):1457-68. doi: 10.1016/j.phytochem.2008.02.019. Epub 2008 Mar 18.


Cyanogenic glucosides are phytoanticipins known to be present in more than 2500 plant species. They are regarded as having an important role in plant defense against herbivores due to bitter taste and release of toxic hydrogen cyanide upon tissue disruption, but recent investigations demonstrate additional roles as storage compounds of reduced nitrogen and sugar that may be mobilized when demanded for use in primary metabolism. Some specialized herbivores, especially insects, preferentially feed on cyanogenic plants. Such herbivores have acquired the ability to metabolize cyanogenic glucosides or to sequester them for use in their own defense against predators. A few species of arthropods (within diplopods, chilopods and insects) are able to de novo biosynthesize cyanogenic glucosides and some are able to sequester cyanogenic glucosides from their food plant as well. This applies to larvae of Zygaena (Zygaenidae). The ratio and content of cyanogenic glucosides is tightly regulated in Zygaena filipendulae, and these compounds play several important roles in addition to defense in the life cycle of Zygaena. The transfer of a nuptial gift of cyanogenic glucosides during mating of Zygaena has been demonstrated as well as the involvement of hydrogen cyanide in male attraction and nitrogen metabolism. As more plant and arthropod species are examined, it is likely that cyanogenic glucosides are found to be more widespread than formerly thought and that cyanogenic glucosides are intricately involved in many key processes in the life cycle of plants and arthropods.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthropods / chemistry
  • Arthropods / classification
  • Arthropods / metabolism*
  • Cyanides / chemistry
  • Cyanides / metabolism*
  • Glycosides / chemistry
  • Glycosides / metabolism*
  • Molecular Structure
  • Phylogeny
  • Plants / chemistry
  • Plants / classification
  • Plants / metabolism*


  • Cyanides
  • Glycosides