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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

How human neuroblastoma cells make morphine.

Recently, our laboratory demonstrated that human neuroblastoma cells (SH-SY5Y) are capable of synthesizing morphine, the major active metabolite of opium poppy. Now our experiments are further substantiated by extending the biochemical studies to the entire morphine pathway in this human cell line. L-[1,2,3-13C3]- and [ring-2',5',6'-2H3]dopa showed high isotopic enrichment and incorporation in both the isoquinoline and the benzyl moiety of the endogenous morphine. [2,2-2H2]Dopamine, however, was exclusively incorporated only into the isoquinoline moiety. Neither the trioxygenated (R,S)-[1,3-13C2]norcoclaurine, the precursor of morphine in the poppy plant, nor (R)-[1,3,4-2H3]norlaudanosoline showed incorporation into endogenous morphine. However, (S)-[1,3,4-2H3]norlaudanosoline furnished a good isotopic enrichment and the loss of a single deuterium atom at the C-9 position of the morphine molecule, indicating that the change of configuration from (S)- to (R)-reticuline occurs via the intermediacy of 1,2-dehydroreticuline. Additional feeding experiments with potential morphinan precursors demonstrated substantial incorporation of [7-2H]salutaridinol, but not 7-[7-2H]episalutaridinol, and [7-2H,N-C2H3]oripavine, and [6-2H]codeine into morphine. Human morphine biosynthesis involves at least 19 chemical steps. For the most part, it is a reflection of the biosynthesis in opium poppy; however, there is a fundamental difference in the formation of the key intermediate (S)-reticuline: it proceeds via the tetraoxygenated initial isoquinoline alkaloid (S)-norlaudanosoline, whereas the plant morphine biosynthesis proceeds via the trioxygenated (S)-norcoclaurine. Following the plant biosynthetic pathway, (S)-reticuline undergoes a change of configuration at C-1 during its transformation to salutaridinol and thebaine. From thebaine, there is a bifurcate pathway leading to morphine proceeding via codeine or oripavine, in both plants and mammals.[1]


  1. How human neuroblastoma cells make morphine. Boettcher, C., Fellermeier, M., Boettcher, C., Dräger, B., Zenk, M.H. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. (2005) [Pubmed]
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