Benzylisoquinoline alkaloid biosynthesis in opium poppy

Guillaume A W Beaudoin, Peter J Facchini
Planta 2014, 240 (1): 19-32
Opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) is one of the world's oldest medicinal plants and remains the only commercial source for the narcotic analgesics morphine, codeine and semi-synthetic derivatives such as oxycodone and naltrexone. The plant also produces several other benzylisoquinoline alkaloids with potent pharmacological properties including the vasodilator papaverine, the cough suppressant and potential anticancer drug noscapine and the antimicrobial agent sanguinarine. Opium poppy has served as a model system to investigate the biosynthesis of benzylisoquinoline alkaloids in plants. The application of biochemical and functional genomics has resulted in a recent surge in the discovery of biosynthetic genes involved in the formation of major benzylisoquinoline alkaloids in opium poppy. The availability of extensive biochemical genetic tools and information pertaining to benzylisoquinoline alkaloid metabolism is facilitating the study of a wide range of phenomena including the structural biology of novel catalysts, the genomic organization of biosynthetic genes, the cellular and sub-cellular localization of biosynthetic enzymes and a variety of biotechnological applications. In this review, we highlight recent developments and summarize the frontiers of knowledge regarding the biochemistry, cellular biology and biotechnology of benzylisoquinoline alkaloid biosynthesis in opium poppy.

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