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Comparative phytochemistry of flavaglines (= rocaglamides), a group of highly bioactive flavolignans from Aglaia species (Meliaceae)

  • Greger, Harald1
  • 1 University of Vienna,
Published Article
Phytochemistry Reviews
Publication Date
Jun 04, 2021
DOI: 10.1007/s11101-021-09761-5
PMID: 34104125
PMCID: PMC8176878
PubMed Central
  • Article


Flavaglines are formed by cycloaddition of a flavonoid nucleus with a cinnamic acid moiety representing a typical chemical character of the genus Aglaia of the family Meliaceae. Based on biosynthetic considerations 148 derivatives are grouped together into three skeletal types representing 77 cyclopenta[ b ]benzofurans, 61 cyclopenta[ bc ]benzopyrans, and 10 benzo[ b ]oxepines. Apart from different hydroxy, methoxy, and methylenedioxy groups of the aromatic rings, important structural variation is created by different substitutions and stereochemistries of the central cyclopentane ring. Putrescine-derived bisamides constitute important building blocks occurring as cyclic 2-aminopyrrolidines or in an open-chained form, and are involved in the formation of pyrimidinone flavaglines. Regarding the central role of cinnamic acid in the formation of the basic skeleton, rocagloic acid represents a biosynthetic precursor from which aglafoline- and rocaglamide-type cyclopentabenzofurans can be derived, while those of the rocaglaol-type are the result of decarboxylation. Broad-based comparison revealed characteristic substitution trends which contribute as chemical markers to natural delimitation and grouping of taxonomically problematic Aglaia species. A wide variety of biological activities ranges from insecticidal, antifungal, antiprotozoal, and anti-inflammatory properties, especially to pronounced anticancer and antiviral activities. The high insecticidal activity of flavaglines is comparable with that of the well-known natural insecticide azadirachtin. Comparative feeding experiments informed about structure–activity relationships and exhibited different substitutions of the cyclopentane ring essential for insecticidal activity. Parallel studies on the antiproliferative activity of flavaglines in various tumor cell lines revealed similar structural prerequisites that let expect corresponding molecular mechanisms. An important structural modification with very high cytotoxic potency was found in the benzofuran silvestrol characterized by an unusual dioxanyloxy subunit. It possessed comparable cytotoxicity to that of the natural anticancer compounds paclitaxel (Taxol®) and camptothecin without effecting normal cells. The primary effect was the inhibition of protein synthesis by binding to the translation initiation factor eIF4A, an ATP-dependent DEAD-box RNA helicase. Flavaglines were also shown to bind to prohibitins (PHB) responsible for regulation of important signaling pathways, and to inhibit the transcriptional factor HSF1 deeply involved in metabolic programming, survival, and proliferation of cancer cells. Flavaglines were shown to be not only promising anticancer agents but gained now also high expectations as agents against emerging RNA viruses like SARS-CoV-2. Targeting the helicase eIF4A with flavaglines was recently described as pan-viral strategy for minimizing the impact of future RNA virus pandemics.

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