Journal of Chemical Ecology

, 35:1252 | Cite as

Papyriferic Acid, An Antifeedant Triterpene From Birch Trees, Inhibits Succinate Dehydrogenase From Liver Mitochondria

  • Stuart McLean
  • Stephen M. Richards
  • Siow-Leng Cover
  • Sue Brandon
  • Noel W. Davies
  • John P. Bryant
  • Thomas P. Clausen


Papyriferic acid (PA) is a triterpene that is secreted by glands on twigs of the juvenile ontogenetic phase of resin producing tree birches (e.g., Betula neoalaskana, B. pendula) and that deters browsing by mammals such as the snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus). We investigated the pharmacology of PA as a first step in understanding its antifeedant effect. After oral administration to rats, PA and several metabolites were found in feces but not urine, indicating that little was absorbed systemically. Metabolism involved various combinations of hydrolysis of its acetyl and malonyl ester groups, and hydroxylation of the terpene moiety. The presence of a malonyl group suggested a possible interaction with succinate dehydrogenase (SDH), a mitochondrial enzyme known to be competitively inhibited by malonic acid. The effect of PA on the oxidation of succinate by SDH was examined in mitochondrial preparations from livers of ox, rabbit, and rat. In all three species, PA was a potent inhibitor of SDH. Kinetic analysis indicated that, unlike malonate, PA acted by an uncompetitive mechanism, meaning that it binds to the enzyme-substrate complex. The hydrolysis product of PA, betulafolienetriol oxide, was inactive on SDH. Overall, the evidence suggests that PA acts as the intact molecule and interacts at a site other than the succinate binding site, possibly binding to the ubiquinone sites on complex II. Papyriferic acid was potent (KiEIS ranged from 25 to 45 µM in the three species) and selective, as malate dehydrogenase was unaffected. Although rigorous proof will require further experiments, we have a plausible mechanism for the antifeedant effect of PA: inhibition of SDH in gastrointestinal cells decreases mitochondrial energy production resulting in a noxious stimulus, 5-HT release, and sensations of nausea and discomfort. There is evidence that the co-evolution of birches and hares over a large and geographically-diverse area in Northern Europe and America has produced marked differences in the formation of PA by birches, and the tolerance of hares to dietary PA. The present findings on the metabolic fate and biochemical effects of PA provide a rational basis for investigating the mechanisms underlying differences among populations of hares in their tolerance of a PA-rich diet.


Papyriferic acid Antifeedant Mechanism of action Succinate dehydrogenase Enzyme inhibition Betula Birch resin Snowshoe hares Lepus americanus 



We are grateful to Debbie Orchard for assistance in preparation of mitochondria, Lai K. Wong for undertaking the initial incubations, and Edwin Lowe for Orbitrap LC-MS data. We also thank Jennifer Forbey for helpful comments on the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stuart McLean
    • 1
  • Stephen M. Richards
    • 2
  • Siow-Leng Cover
    • 2
  • Sue Brandon
    • 1
  • Noel W. Davies
    • 3
  • John P. Bryant
    • 4
  • Thomas P. Clausen
    • 5
  1. 1.School of PharmacyUniversity of TasmaniaHobartAustralia
  2. 2.School of MedicineUniversity of TasmaniaHobartAustralia
  3. 3.Central Science LaboratoryUniversity of TasmaniaHobartAustralia
  4. 4.CoraUSA
  5. 5.Department of Chemistry and BiochemistryUniversity of Alaska FairbanksFairbanksUSA

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