Symposium: Function of Steroids and Other Isopentenoid


, Volume 13, Issue 10, pp 708-715

First online:

Cyclopamine and related steroidal alkaloid teratogens: Their occurrence, structural relationship, and biologic effects

  • Richard F. KeelerAffiliated withScience and Education Administration, Poisonous Plant Research Laboratory, U.S. Department of Agriculture

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A spontaneous congenital deformity is produced in lambs whose dams consumeVeratrum californicum on the 14th day of gestation. The deformity is generally expressed as cyclopia, cebocephaly, anophthalmia, or microphthalmia. This teratogenic effect is produced by certain steroidal alkaloid teratogens from the plant—most notably the compound cyclopamine. Cyclopamine is a C-nor-D-homo steroid with fused furanopiperidine rings E and F at right angles to the plane of the steroid because of spiro attachment at C-17 of the steroid. Among veratrum alkaloids, only those with an intact furan ring E were teratogenic in sheep, whereas those in which the piperidine ring is not rigidly positioned at right angles to the steroid were not. Many ruminants and laboratory animals are susceptible to the teratogen. It has wide species and tissue specificity and appears to have a direct effect on the embryo, not as a consequence of metabolic alteration of its structure nor as an indirect effect through a maternal influence. Other plant sources, notably potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant contain related spirosolane steroidal alkaloids. Among naturally occurring spirosolanes, solasodine is teratogenic in hamsters, but neither tomatidine not diosgenin, the non-nitrogen containing analog of solasodine, is teratogenic. Results of these and other studies suggest that a basic nitrogen positioned α with respect to the steroidal plane and at appropriate distance beyond the D ring confers the teratogenicity on the molecule. Potato sprouts with high alkaloid content are teratogenic in hamsters, but tubers and peels are not.