Historical and biochemical aspects of a seventeenth century gold-based aurum vitae recipe


The medicinal chemistry and biomedical applications of gold complexes have been intensively studied over the last decades. Some complexes have been used for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, and a considerable number of new metallodrug candidates have been developed as new anticancer drugs and anti-infectives. However, the therapeutic use of gold and its complexes goes back to ancient times and was also of great importance for alchemists until the modern age. In this report, we give an overview of the alchemic medicine between the sixteenth and the early eighteenth century and describe the cytotoxicity and thioredoxin reductase (TrxR) inhibition of a typical “aurum vitae” medicine, which was prepared according to a recipe by Bartholomäus Kretschmar from the seventeenth century. “Aurum vitae” consists of a mixture of gold, mercury and antimony complexes and shows the expected cytotoxic and TrxR inhibitory properties providing some rationale for therapeutic effects of this kind of historical medicinal preparation.

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The literature research in history of pharmacy and the experimental contributions of Nuray Ates, André Morawetz, Canan Özen and Jan Carlos Quistorf are gratefully appreciated.

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Correspondence to Ingo Ott.

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Rubbiani, R., Wahrig, B. & Ott, I. Historical and biochemical aspects of a seventeenth century gold-based aurum vitae recipe. J Biol Inorg Chem 19, 961–965 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00775-014-1135-4

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  • Alchemy
  • Antimony
  • Aurum vitae
  • Cytotoxicity
  • Gold