Biosynthesis of a defensive insect alkaloid: epilachnene from oleic acid and serine

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1994 Dec 20;91(26):12790-3. doi: 10.1073/pnas.91.26.12790.


The biosynthesis of the azamacrolide epilachnene by the coccinellid beetle Epilachna varivestis has been studied with 2H-labeled oleic acid, 2H-labeled L-serine, and 13C,15N-labeled L-serine. The incorporation of these precursors into epilachnene defines the origin of the alkaloid's entire carbon/nitrogen skeleton. GC/MS and GC/IR studies of alkaloid produced by Epilachna fed with deuteriated oleic acid show that oleic acid loses four carbon atoms from its carboxyl end during the biosynthesis. Other details, including the mechanism of carbon-nitrogen bond formation between the fatty acid and amino acid moieties, remain to be established.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alkaloids / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Coleoptera / metabolism*
  • Fabaceae
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Oleic Acid
  • Oleic Acids / metabolism
  • Plants, Medicinal
  • Serine / metabolism
  • Spectrophotometry, Infrared


  • Alkaloids
  • Oleic Acids
  • Oleic Acid
  • Serine