An Update of Erythrinan Alkaloids and Their Pharmacological Activities

  • Runner R. T. MajindaEmail author
Part of the Progress in the Chemistry of Organic Natural Products book series (POGRCHEM, volume 107)


The period of the past 5 years has witnessed a remarkable increase in all of the number, structural variety, and complexity of erythrinan alkaloids reported. This structural diversity seems to be most pronounced in the alkaloids reported from the two species Erythrina arborescens and Erythrina variegata. Between them, work-up of these taxa yielded new polymeric (dimeric and trimeric) erythrinan alkaloids, a first example in one case where a normal 6,5,6,6-membered indoloisoquinoline spirocylic core has rearranged to a spiro-fused 6,5,7,6-skeleton. Furthermore, erythrinan alkaloids with a fifth ring containing a 2H-imidazole functionality were also reported for the first time, together with some new structures having an unusual substitution and with functionalities at positions C-3 and C-7 of the erythrinan core. This contribution has included 40 more erythrinan alkaloids that are either new or were omitted in the most recent major reviews on the same topic, leading to a total of 154 known erythrinan alkaloids to date. There are a few cases where the structures of the new alkaloids are contestable due to insufficient data having been obtained on isolation. To facilitate easier reference and identification, all structures having a common core have been placed in the same table or figure in this chapter.

The reported pharmacological activities of the new and known erythrinan alkaloids documented have shown a considerable bias towards central nervous system and related activities. Other prominent activities that have been reported are antifeedant, insecticidal, cytotoxic, antiprotozoal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antifungal, and antiviral effects. Erythrinan alkaloids generally seem to lack antibacterial activity. Several new polymeric alkaloids were found to lack cytotoxicity against a number of human cancer cell lines, although two of them showed moderate aphicidal activity and one exhibited weak to moderate acetylcholinesterase inhibition. The biological activity of erythrinan alkaloids seems to be influenced by basic substructural requirements, such as a conjugated diene (Δ1,2, Δ6,7) system and is modulated by the presence (or absence) of other groups in rings A, B, C, and D of the erythrinan core. The erythrinan core may provide potential leads to structures that eventually may be useful therapeutically.

In recent years, a number of stereoselective chemical synthesis methods have been applied towards the erythinan alkaloids, and these are described in this contribution.


Erythrinan alkaloids Erythrinan core Structural variety Pharmacological activities CNS activity Structure-activity relationship studies Chemical synthesis procedures 



I wish to thank Mr. J. O. Ombito for kindly sending me some of the references cited herein while he was in Germany. Messrs Japhet Omollo Ombito, Sampson Dominic Umoh, and Nayang Kgakatsi are thanked for reading through the draft of the manuscript.


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ChemistryUniversity of BotswanaGaboroneBotswana

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