, Volume 6, Issue 2-3, pp 277-305,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 10 Mar 2007

Catharanthus terpenoid indole alkaloids: biosynthesis and regulation


Catharanthus roseus is still the only source for the powerful antitumour drugs vinblastine and vincristine. Some other pharmaceutical compounds from this plant, ajmalicine and serpentine are also of economical importance. Although C. roseus has been studied extensively and was subject of numerous publications, a full characterization of its alkaloid pathway is not yet achieved. Here we review some of the recent work done on this plant. Most of the work focussed on early steps of the pathway, particularly the discovery of the 2-C-methyl-d-erythritol 4-phosphate (MEP)-pathway leading to terpenoids. Both mevalonate and MEP pathways are utilized by plants with apparent cross-talk between them across different compartments. Many genes of the early steps in Catharanthus alkaloid pathway have been cloned and overexpressed to improve the biosynthesis. Research on the late steps in the pathway resulted in cloning of several genes. Enzymes and genes involved in indole alkaloid biosynthesis and various aspects of their localization and regulation are discussed. Much progress has been made at alkaloid regulatory level. Feeding precursors, growth regulators treatments and metabolic engineering are good tools to increase productivity of terpenoid indole alkaloids. But still our knowledge of the late steps in the Catharanthus alkaloid pathway and the genes involved is limited.