Cyanogenic glycosides: synthesis, physiology, and phenotypic plasticity

Annu Rev Plant Biol. 2014;65:155-85. doi: 10.1146/annurev-arplant-050213-040027. Epub 2014 Feb 24.


Cyanogenic glycosides (CNglcs) are bioactive plant products derived from amino acids. Structurally, these specialized plant compounds are characterized as α-hydroxynitriles (cyanohydrins) that are stabilized by glucosylation. In recent years, improved tools within analytical chemistry have greatly increased the number of known CNglcs by enabling the discovery of less abundant CNglcs formed by additional hydroxylation, glycosylation, and acylation reactions. Cyanogenesis--the release of toxic hydrogen cyanide from endogenous CNglcs--is an effective defense against generalist herbivores but less effective against fungal pathogens. In the course of evolution, CNglcs have acquired additional roles to improve plant plasticity, i.e., establishment, robustness, and viability in response to environmental challenges. CNglc concentration is usually higher in young plants, when nitrogen is in ready supply, or when growth is constrained by nonoptimal growth conditions. Efforts are under way to engineer CNglcs into some crops as a pest control measure, whereas in other crops efforts are directed toward their removal to improve food safety. Given that many food crops are cyanogenic, it is important to understand the molecular mechanisms regulating cyanogenesis so that the impact of future environmental challenges can be anticipated.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Glycosides / biosynthesis
  • Glycosides / physiology*
  • Plant Physiological Phenomena
  • Plants / metabolism*


  • Glycosides
  • cyanogenic glycosides