Phytochemistry Reviews

, Volume 13, Issue 3, pp 671–694

Medicinal history of North American Veratrum



Plants belonging to the genus Veratrum have been used throughout history for their medicinal properties. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, phytochemical investigations revealed a host of steroidal alkaloids in Veratrum species, some of which are potent bioactives. This review discusses Veratrum species that grow in North America with a focus on the medicinal history of these plants and the steroidal alkaloids they contain. While significant reviews have been devoted to singularly describing the plant species within the genus Veratrum (botany), the staggering breadth of alkaloids isolated from these and related plants (phytochemistry), and the intricacies of how the various alkaloids act on their biological targets (physiology and biochemistry), this review will straddle the margins of the aforementioned disciplines in an attempt to provide a unified, coherent picture of the Veratrum plants of North America and the medicinal uses of their bioactive steroidal alkaloids.


Steroidal alkaloids Bezold–Jarisch reflex Hedgehog signaling pathway Hypertension Cancer 



United States Department of Agriculture


National Resources Conservation Service, formerly the US Soil Conservation Service


International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry


Holoprosencephalopathy, a developmental abnormality in which the prosencephalon of the embryo fails to divide into separate hemispheres causing defects in facial and brain structures


Hedgehog, used in reference to the complete series of biochemical events and structures that make up the embryonic hedgehog signaling pathway


Invertebrate hedgehog gene, originally discovered in Drosophila


Vertebrate Sonic hedgehog gene


Vertebrate Indian hedgehog gene


Vertebrate Desert hedgehog gene


Sonic hedgehog protein, potent morphogen coded for by shh


Active Sonic hedgehog protein, 19 kDa N-terminal fragment produced by autolytic cleavage of Shh and subsequent palmitoylation of the N-terminus and addition of cholesterol to the C-terminus


Patched, a twelve pass transmembrane transport protein integral to the hedgehog signaling pathway which serves as the binding site for the active Sonic hedgehog protein and regulates the activity of Smoothened


Smoothened, a seven transmembrane G-protein like receptor integral to the hedgehog signaling pathway; initiates the signaling cascade regulating the activity of Gli transcription factors


Nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome, an autosomal-dominant inherited condition characterized by craniofacial malformations, spina bifida, and polydactylism in addition to high rates of basal cell carcinoma and cancers of the heart, ovaries, skin, and central nervous system


Basal cell carcinoma, most common non-melanoma skin cancer; characterized by uncontrolled growth of cells in the stratum basale, the skin’s lowest layer


Primitive neuroectodermal tumor, tumors originating in cells derived from the neuroectoderm such as medulloblastomas


3-Keto N-aminoethyl aminocaproyl dihydrocin-namoyl cyclopamine, a potent hedgehog pathway antagonist derived from the natural product cyclopamine


Cancer stem cell, highly proliferative undifferentiated tumor cells, which give rise to rapidly dividing “bulk” tumor cells


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Chemistry and BiochemistryBoise State UniversityBoiseUSA

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