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From Plant to Patient: Thapsigargin, a Tool for Understanding Natural Product Chemistry, Total Syntheses, Biosynthesis, Taxonomy, ATPases, Cell Death, and Drug Development

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  • Søren Brøgger Christensen, University of Copenhagen
  • ,
  • Henrik Toft Simonsen, Technical University of Denmark
  • ,
  • Nikolai Engedal, University of Oslo
  • ,
  • Poul Nissen
  • Jesper Vuust Møller
  • Samuel R. Denmeade, Johns Hopkins University
  • ,
  • John T. Isaacs, Johns Hopkins University

Thapsigargin, the first representative of the hexaoxygenated guaianolides, was isolated 40 years ago in order to understand the skin-irritant principles of the resin of the umbelliferous plant Thapsia garganica. The pronounced cytotoxicity of thapsigargin is caused by highly selective inhibition of the intracellular sarco-endoplasmic Ca2+-ATPase (SERCA) situated on the membrane of the endo- or sarcoplasmic reticulum. Thapsigargin is selective to the SERCA pump and to a minor extent the secretory pathway Ca2+/Mn2+ ATPase (SPCA) pump. Thapsigargin has become a tool for investigation of the importance of SERCA in intracellular calcium homeostasis. In addition, complex formation of thapsigargin with SERCA has enabled crystallization and structure determination of calcium-free states by X-ray crystallography. These results led to descriptions of the mechanism of action and kinetic properties of SERCA and other ATPases. Inhibition of SERCA depletes Ca2+ from the sarco- and endoplasmic reticulum provoking the unfolded protein response, and thereby has enabled new studies on the mechanism of cell death. Development of protocols for selective transformation of thapsigargin disclosed the chemistry and facilitated total synthesis of the molecule. Conversion of trilobolide into thapsigargin offered an economically feasible sustainable source of thapsigargin, which enables a future drug production. Principles for prodrug development were used by conjugating a payload derived from thapsigargin with a hydrophilic peptide selectively cleaved by proteases in the tumor. Mipsagargin was developed in order to obtain a drug for treatment of cancer diseases characterized by the presence of prostate specific membrane antigen (PSMA) in the neovascular tissue of the tumors. Even though mipsagargin showed interesting clinical effects the results did not encourage funding and consequently the attempt to register the drug has been abandoned. In spite of this disappointing fact, the research performed to develop the drug has resulted in important scientific discoveries concerning the chemistry, biosynthesis and biochemistry of sesquiterpene lactones, the mechanism of action of ATPases including SERCA, mechanisms for cell death caused by the unfolded protein response, and the use of prodrugs for cancer-targeting cytotoxins. The presence of toxins in only some species belonging to Thapsia also led to a major revision of the taxonomy of the genus.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProgress in the Chemistry of Organic Natural Products
EditorsA.D. Kinghorn, H. Falk, S. Gibbons, Y. Asakawa, J.K. Liu, V.M. Dirsch
Number of pages56
Volume115
Place of publicationCham
PublisherSpringer
Publication year2021
Pages59-114
ISBN (print)978-3-030-64852-7
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-030-64853-4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2021

    Research areas

  • Apoptosis, Drug development, Mipsagargin, Sarco-endoplasmic reticulum calcium ATPase, Targeted prodrugs, Thapsigargin

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