Physiology and Biochemistry
Madagascar periwinkle contains a large number of toxic alkaloids, the best known of which are vincristine and vinblastine. These purified compounds are used as chemotherapy for certain cancers, particularly leukemia and Hodgkin’s disease. Vincristine has been credited with raising the childhood leukemia survival rate from less than 10% to over 90%. Both vinblastine and vincristine are bisindole alkaloids, dimers formed from the fusion of two indole alkaloid monomers (catharanthine and vindoline); vincristine is only slightly different from vinblastine and can be chemically derived from the latter. Modified derivatives that may have less severe side effects are now also used in cancer treatment. Many other indole alkaloids are present in C. roseus and in related species. To date, it has not been possible to manufacture these compounds synthetically. As they are naturally present only in very small quantities, considerable research has been conducted to elucidate their biosynthetic pathways and devise ways of improving alkaloid yield in cell cultures.
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MedlinePlus Drug Information: Vincristine
MedlinePlus Drug Information: Vinblastine
Moreno, P. R. H., R. van der Heijden and R. Verpoorte. 1995. Cell and tissue cultures of Catharanthus roseus: A literature survey. Plant Cell Tiss. Org. Cult. 42: 1-25.
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