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University College of the West lndies
Determination of Alkaloid Structures
Isolation, characterization, a n d physical methods
There are several well-known books on the chemistry of the alkaloids (I), but these tend to discuss the detailed chemistry of particular groups of alkaloids. It is the purpose of these articles to outline the general methods of approach in alkaloid chemistry.' The term "alkaloid" (alkali-like) is applied to the large group of basic nitrogen-containing natural products of vegetable origin. They are usually colorless (berberine is yellow), well-crystalline solids, but some from the tobacco, hemlock, and pomegranate root bark are liquids,. The bases are usually optically active (mainly levorotatory) though a few such as coniine, cinchonine, laudanosine, pilocarpine, and pelletierine are dextrorotatory,andothers like berberine,papaverine, and pilocereine are optically inactive. I n most cases the nitrogen atom forms an integral part of a cyclic structure. Classifications of alkaloids usually exclude simple amines, purines, hetaines derived from amino acids of proteins, choliie, and other bases of biological importance which in contradistinction to the typical alkaloids are not limited to one or a few species of plants. Alkaloids occur most abundantly in the higher orders of the plant kingdom and have been found in over 90 different families of flowering plants (2). The majority of these families belong to dicotyledenous orders and the number of monocotyleden~us families showing the presence of alkaloids is relatively
The present article deals with methods of isohtion and characterization and the applications of physics1 methods to the determination of alkaloid structures. The second paper, to be published in October, will describe chemical methods of .structural determination.
small. The Gymnosperms and Pteridophytes are poorly represented and so far as is known alkaloids are virtually absent from the lower groups of plants with the excep tion of one or two families of the fungi (e.g., ergot) (8). Alkaloids generally occur in the plant tissue a t points of intense cell activity such as the leaves, roots, bark, and seeds and are generally regarded as plant met,abolic . byproducts. There is considerable variation in the alkaloidal content in the plant depending on such factors as time of reaping and methods of cultivation and selection. A knowledge of the botanical origin of an alkaloid can be useful in giving indications of the structural type of alkaloid which is likely to be present. Plants of the same family generally tend to produce alkaloids of the same structural type. This is a generalization which has to be applied with caution for there are alkaloids such as nicotine and berberine which are found in several different plant families. Also plants such as the opium poppy give a number of different structural types of alkaloids though the latter are probably biogenetically related. Alkaloids occur usually as salts of the common plant acids. I n certain plants, however, a specific acid may be found associated with certain alkaloids such as quinic acid in the cinchona group, aconitic acid in the aconitines, and meconic acid in the opium group. A few alkaloids such as narceine and narcotine are found free in nature, probably because of their low basicity. A few alkaloids as found in the solanum and veratrum groups occur as glycosides of such sugars as glucose, rhamnose, and galactose. Other alkaloids as in the
Journal of Chemical Education
The Occurrence and Use of Some Common Alkaloids
Alkaloid Arecoline Atropine Caffeine" Cocaine Codeine Colchicine Cusparine Emetine Ephedri?e Ergonomne Febrifugine Mescaline
Source Betel nuts Belladonna Coffee, ten Coca. leaf Opium Crocus Angustura bark Ipecac roots "Ma Huang" Fgot Ch'ang Shan" "Mescal buttons"
Use Masticatory; vermifuge Mydriatic in ophthalmalogy Stimulant Local anaesthetic Pain reliever Plant genetics Stimulant Emetic; amoebic dysentery Asthma Obstetrics, oxytocic ~nti-ma1a;ial Hallucinatory principle
Alkaloid Morphine Nicotine Papaverine Physo~tigmine Pilocarpine Quininr Reserpine ScopolamineSparteine Strychnine Tubocurarine Yohimhine
Source Opium Tobacco Opium Calabar bean
Pain relief. narcotic Stimulant: insecticide Spasmolytio drug Gastrointc~tinel and bladder stimulant Jaborandi Diaphoretic (sweat producing) Cinchona bark Malaria fever Rauwolfia Tranquilizer 1)atura Narcotic Broom Cardiac treatment Strvchnos Pest exterminator Chondrodendron Nerve paralysis Yohimbe bark Aphrodisiac (sex stimulation)
Sometimes classed as an alkaloid cf. (Ic).
tropane, aconitine, senecio, veratrum, and yohimbine groups are encountered as esters of various organic acids of varying complexity. A few others occur as amides such as piperine and the ergot alkaloids. The study of the chemistry of the alkaloids has been particularly att,ractive to chemists partly on account of their wide occurrence and diversity of physiological action on the animal organism and partly on account of the complex structural and synthetic problems involved in the elucidation of their structure. Many of these investigations have been classics in the realms of structure elucidation and synthesis. The occurrence and uses of some of the commoner alkaloids are shown in Table 1.
The presence of alkaloids in plants is first established by tests on extracts from the plant with various alkaloidal reagents (Sa). The presence of a precipitate or turbidity with such common reagents as Mayer's (potassium mercuric iodide), Wagner's (iodine-potassium iodide), Dragendofi's (potassium bismuth iodide), Sonnenschein's (phosphomolybdic acid), and Scheibler's (phosphotungstic arid) indicates the presenre of alkaloids.
"Mayer'e resgmt is most commonly used as it is generally the most sensitive. About 1 g of plant material is digested with 5-10 ml of dilute HCI and the filtrate tested with a. few drops of the reagent. A creamy precipitate or turbidity gmcrally indicates the- presence of alkaloids."
tion is made basic and again extracted with an organic solvent usually ether or chloroform to give a crude mixture of bases. Some alkaloid hydrochlorides are soluble in chloroform and this property can be used for purposes of separation (5b). A modification of the above process is the extraction of the plant material with an aqueousorganic solvent mixture and subsequent separation and drying of the organic layer. Non-basic alkaloids can usually be obtained after removal of any acid or alkaline constituents of the organic layer. Acid extraction, though less frequently used, has been applied with success to the isolation of alkaloids from undried plant material in the field using ion exchange techniques. Alternatively the dried plant material is extracted with a dilute acid such as sulfuric or tartaric. Tartaric acid has the advantage of tending to give a purer product. Where there is danger of decomposition of the plant base, the extraction is done in the cold. The aqueous solution is hasified and either extracted with an organic solvent or steam-distilled to remove volatile components. Quaternary alkaloids which are usually quite soluble in water are generally recovered by precipitation with mercuric chloride or Mayer's reagent and the resulting mercury complex decomposed with hydrogen sulfide. Some alkaloids which occur as N-oxides are quite soluble in water. They may be obtained by reduction with acid zinc dust followed by chloroform extraction. These methods are summarized in Table 2 with appropriate examples.
Separation and Purification Methods
The extraction of the total alkaloids from the plant, material is generally accomplished either by extraction with acids or with organic solvents. Various modifications have been worked out empirically for the extraction of particular alkaloids. Solvent extraction is usually the more common procedure. The dried plant. material is usually subjected to a preliminary extraction with light petroleum to remove plant oils. Most alkaloids and their salts are insoluble in petroleum. The alkaloid bases are then liberated from the salts present in the plant material by treatment with ba.se (calcium hydroxide, ammonium hydroxide, or sodium carbonate) and then extracted with a suitable organic solvent surh as chloroform, ether, benzene, ethanol, methanol, or methylene chloride. The alkaloids are then extracted with acid from the organic solvent or pasty residue that remains after removal of the solvent. The acid solu-
In the early days of alkaloid chemistry the separation of mixtures of alkaloids often involved tedious fractional rrystallizations or precipitations. Nevertheless, excellent separations were achieved. However the complexity of some alkaloid mixtures is such that for a time only the more abundant components could be examined. The advent of more elegant techniques of separation such as counter-current distribution, adsorption, and partition chromatography have made possible the study of many of the minor components (10). Ion exchange, though potentially a good method, has had little application in separation. These techniques are too well known to require elaboration. A summary of the main methods of separation with examples of their application is given in Table 3 and Figures 1and 2. Some criterion of the effectiveness of a separation is required. Paper chromatography and to a lesser exVolume 37, Number 9, September 1960
Examples of Alkaloid Isolation Methods Solvent.k>xtraction Methods
Acid Extraction Methods
Cyclic extraction of undried plant and absorption on ion exchange lcolumn ( 4 )
Percolation of dried plant material with dilute acid, or hot extraction
Addition of base and extractor with organic sol-
Concentration and basification
Precipitation of quaternary alkaloids a i t b mercuric chloride components
Separation of solvent Acidification & removal of loils with I petroleum
%Removal of distillate solvent
with alcohol and ammonia
of base by extraction
and extraction with organic solvent
tent paper electrophoresis have been useful in this connection (Table 3, Fig. 3). The individual alkaloid is characterized by constancy of its melting point, boiling point, optical rotation, ultraviolet spectra, infrared spectra, and any other suitable physical properties, and also by the preparation and characterization of derivatives and salts. Often the purification of an alkaloid through one of its salts is more convenient; a useful test for homogeneity is the inter-convertability of the alkaloid and its salts. Quantitative methods of estimation of alkaloids which are generally either colorimetric, volumetric, or gravimetric depend largely on the types of functional groups present (Sd).
Structural Investigation b y Physical M e t h o d s
Physical methods are becoming increasingly important in the structural elucidation of chemical compounds. A few examples of each method must suffice to illustrate the approach. It should also be emphasized that physical and chemical methods go hand in hand in structural investigation.
UV spectra have provided the keys to the solution of many problems in alkaloid chemistry. W spectra may he useful in pointing to the type of structure likely to be found. Broadly speaking the spectra of alkaloids may be divided into three main classes (26).
No UV absorption in the range 200-1000 m#. Examples are the saturated ring systems such as the pyrrolidine and piperidine alkaloids. Simple aromatic chromophoric systems such as substituted benzene or pyridine with medium intensity absorption a t rerelsr t i d y short wavelengths (230-300 mr), Alkaloids with complex ehromophores, either aromatic nuclei in conjugation vith other chromophores or fused aromatic systems.
Figure 1 . Partition chromatographic seporotion of pomegranate root bork d k d o i d s [by permission from the J. Phorm. and Phormocol.) 1141.
Examples of the use of spectral methods in structure determination are seen with the alkaloids sempervirine (27), strychnine ($a), and emetine (29). The use of UV spectra in the assignment of structures is illustrated by the following example from the morphine series. The structure of the two dihydro thebaines was corrected by the use of UV spectra (30). The structure of the lithium aluminum hydride reduction product was shown to be I1 since the extinction values indicated a conjugated system. The structure of the sodium and ethanol reduction product was shown to be I11 since the extinction value showed a marked
Journal of Chernicol Education
lowering indicating the absence of a conjugated double bond system.
Alkaloid Separation Methods
Method Fractional crystallisation Fractional distillation Senamtion bv ksction Adsorption chromatography Partition chromatography Counter-current distribution Ion exchange Paver Ehromatography Paper electrophoresis
Example of rtnnlicat,ion Quinine alkaloids Hemlock alkaloids Verrttrum alkaloids by acetylation Senecio alkaloids Pomegranate root bark alkaloids Veratrum alkaloids Yohimbine alkaloids Curare alkaloids Stryohnos alkaloids
12 15 19, 20
14 19 (Fig. 1)
dl(a, b )
19. 25 B , 2 4 25
I. Thehaine r = 6500 A = 283 mp
11. LiA1H4product 111. Na/EtOHproduct r = 11,000 r = 2000 X = 284 mp A = 282 mp
sewations could be reconciled by a structure VI for the intermediate (96).
The UV fluorescence spectra of some alkaloids have also been determined (31).
Infrared spectra have been extensively used in the elucidation of the structures of organic molecules (9% 99, 94). Some of the commoner functions found in alkaloids and their characteristic infrared absorption frequencies are shown in Table 4. The infrared spectra of alkaloids have been used for comparative purposes especially in the fields of drugs and narcotics (95), and also in following the course of synthetic and degradative experiments. Thus the infrared spectra were used to reformulate the course of the synthesis of N-methylisomorphinane, IV. One of the intermediates in the synthesis was the postulated nitrile, V. This was shown to be incorrect as the infrared spectrum showed no nitrile bands a t 2240 cm-', but showed bands at 3400 em-', (secondary amine), 1664 em-' (cyclic amide), 1676 cm-', and 1692 em-' (cyclic conjugated carbonyl). The latter ob-
Basic Sfrengtl~s and Polarogmphic Measurements
The determination of pK values has become increasingly important in structure determination and particularly in the elucidation of structural details. An example of this application is in the placing of the double bond in the structure of retronecine, VII, the alkanolamiue hydrolytic cleavage product of the alkaloid monocrotaline (4ia). The a-p or 8-7 positioning of the double bond relative to the nitrogen atom was correctly postulated on the basis of pK measurements and subsequently confirmed by other methods. Retronecine is a weaker base than the corresponding saturated amine platynecine, VIII. This is compatible with a p-y unsaturation whereasau w-8 type of unsaturation would lead to an increase in basic strength due to the facile transformation:
VIII pK, 10.22
The application of pK values to the steric arrangement in some terpenoid alkaloids has been discussed (43). The presence of a tropolone ring in colchicine was postulated on the basis of the similarities in the polarograms of colchicine and ythujaplicin (49).
Figure 2. Twenty-four-tube counter-current distribution of alkaloids (by permission from Anal. Chem.) 175). veratrum
The application of X-ray crystallographic methods to the complex three-dimensional structures often encountered in alkaloid studies has been very rewarding
Volume 37, Number 9, September 1960
Nuclear Magnetic Resononce Spectro
The increasing interest in NMR spectra lies in the fact that many details of structure can be decided unambiguously by this method though this may not be possible using ultraviolet or infrared spectra. Also simple model compounds can be utilized to obtain a "fingerprint" of the portion of the spectrum under consideration. This is analogous to the use of model compounds in UV and I R work but in some cases the model suitable for NMR comparison may be more readily available. An example of the application of the method in the complete proof of the structure of the alkaloid Lunacrine, XII, is outlined below.
T(from Helv. Chim.
Figure 3. Paper chrornotogrorn of curare A < f d (17).
(41b). Classical examples of the application are the studies of the alkaloids strychnine and colchicine. Thus the X-ray spectral method made it possible to distinguish between the structures I X and X for the alkaloid colchicine and showed that the structure X was the correct one.
The structure was elucidated by a detailed analysis of seven well defined groups of lines in the NMR spectrum which were assigned as follows (49): (a) the hydrogen atom at position 5 of the quinolone system; (b) the aromatic hydrogen atoms at 6 and 7; (c) the ahydrogen atom of the dihydrofurano ring; (d) the
Table 4. Some Infrared Absorption Characteristics of Alkaloids
Infrared absorption om-1 S = Strong Intensity: M = Medium W = Weak 36253540 ( S ) non-associated 3400-3200 (S) associated 1767-1764(S) 1742-1735 (S) 1850-162O(S) 1660-1480 (S) 1680-1620 ( S M I near 3030 (W-M-S) 1640-1600 (S) near 1500 (W-M-S)
-0HPhenolic acetate Alcoholic acetate C=O C=N-
3b, 37 38 37 3s 32 Sb, 37
Recently the structure of the complex alkaloid gelsemine, XI, has been independently postulated by both chemical and X-ray methods (44).
3480-3460 3480-3440 3280-3200 3380-3205
( 8 ) indale (S) 2' amines (S) associated (S) 2nd amine
Ammonium 244k2350 (W)
Optical rotational evidence has been used in a few cases to determine stereochemical configurations. Thus rotational evidence was used to establish stereochemical correlations between yohimbine and known steroid structures (45), and the absolute configuration of emetine has been deduced from optical rotational differences
/ H '
NHsf2" Aminesalt 1620-1560 (S-M) deformation mode Hydrochloride salts 3000-2500 (M-W) Series of bands Sb
Optical rotatory dispersion has had limited application in the field of alkaloids, largely due to lack of suitable instruments, though some correlations between the diterpenoid alkaloids and the diterpenes have been made (471, and recently the absolute configuration of emetine has been independently determined with the aid of optical rotatory dispersion curves (48).
methoxyl- and N-methyl-hydrogen atoms; (e) the &hydrogen atoms of the dihydrofurano ring; (f) the tertiary hydrogen atom of the isopropyl group; and (g) the C-methyl-hydrogen atoms. Other examples of the application of NMR spectra in structure determination are illustrated by studies on the alkaloids lycodine (50a) and gelsemine (506).
Journal o f Chemical Education
(1) (a) HENRY,T. A., "The Plant Alkaloids," 4th ed., J . A. Churchill Ltd., London, 1949. (b) MANSKE, H. F., A N D HOLMES, L., "The Alkaloids," R. H. Academic Press Ine., New York, 1950-55, vol. 1-5, val. 6-7, supplement to vol. 5, 1960. (25) (26) (27) (28) (29) (30) (31) (32) (33) (34) (35) (36) (37) (38) (39)
BOIT. HANSG., "Fortschritte der Alkaloid Chernie," Academic-verl'ag, Berlin, 1950. ( d ) BENTLEY, W., "The Alkaloids," Intersoience PubK. lishers, Inc., New York, 1957. (e) HAMMERSLAG, E., "The Technology and ChemisF. try of Alkaloids," Thc Macmillan Co., New York, 1950. (2) WILLAMAN, J., A N D SCHUBERT, G., E e n . Botany, 9, J. B.
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141 (1955). (3) CROMWELL, T. in PAECH, AND TRACEY, V., "ModB. K., M. ern Methods of Plant Analysis," Springer, Berlin, 1955, vol. 4, (a) p. 373, (b) p. 461, ( c ) p. 391, (d) p. 372, (e) p. 424. (4) APPLEZWEIG, A N D RONZONE, E., Ind. E ~ Q . N., S. Chem., 38, 576 11946). - . - \----, (5) (a) KING,H., J. Chem. Soc., 1381 (1935). ( b ) MANSEE, H. F., Can. J. Research, 8, 210 (1933). R. (6) KOEKEMOER, J., A N D WARREN, L., J . Chem. Soc., 66 M. F. (1951). (7) CoMrN,J., A N D DULOFEK, J . 07'0. Chem., 19,1774(1954). V., ( 8 ) CHAT~ERGEE, BOSI., s., AND SRIMINY,S. K., J. OW. A., Chem., 24, 687 (1959). (9) DJERASSI,C., GORMAN, NUSSBAUM, L., AND REYM., A. NOSO, J., J. Am. Chem. Soc., 76, 4463 (1954). (10) MORGAN, J., A N D BARLTROP, A,, Q u a ~ tRevs., 12, 35 K. J. . (1958). (11) CHICK, in "Alleds Commercid Organic Analysis," 5th O., ed., J . A. Churchill Ltd., London, 1932, vol. 7. (12) WHITE,H. L. A N D WINTERSTEINER, J . Am. Chem. Soe., O., 72, 4621 (1950). (13) ADAMS, A N D GOVINDACHAVI, J . Am. Chem. Soe., R., T. R., 71, 1180 (1949). (14) CHILTON, A N D PARTRIDGE, W., J. Pharm. and PharmJ., M. acol., 2, 787 (1950). (15) PAPINEAU-COUTURE.A N D BURLEY, A,, Anal. Chem., G., R. 24, 1920 (1952). (16) BLUMENTHAI., EUGSTER, H., A N D KARRER, Helu. A., C. P., Chim. Ada, 37, 787 (1954). (17) SCHMID, KEBRLE> A N D KARRER, Helv. Chim. Acta, H., J., P., 35, I866 (1952). (18) DEEKERS, W., A N D SCHREIBER, NATURWISS., 553 J., 40, (19.521 . - . .. . . , (19) LEDERER, AND LEDERGR, "Chromatogr&phy," 2nd E., M., ed., D. Van Nostrsnd Co., Ine., Princeton, 1957. (20) ZECHMEISTER, "Progress in Chromatography,'' ChapL., man & Hsll, London, 1950, p. 214. (21) (a) CRAIG, C., Anal. Chem., 28, 723 (1956). L.
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(1956). (40) WITKOP, J , Anr. Chem. Roc., 76, 5597 (1054). B., (41) (a) BROWN, C., M C D A N I E ~ H. A N D HAFLTGER, H. D. (01,
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N o z o ~T., in ZECHMEISTER, ( ' P T O P ~in S S Chemistry , L., ~ the of Organic Natural Products," Springer Verlag, Vienna, 1956, vo!. 13, p. 251. LOVELL, M., PEPINSKY, , A N D WILSON,A. J. C , F. R "Tetrahedron Letters No. 4," 1959, p. 1. KLYNE. Chem. & Ind., 1032 (1953). W., BATTERGBY, R., A N D GARRATT, Proe. Chem. Soc., 86 A. S.,
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AND NACHOD, C., in NACHOD, C., F. F. "Ion Exchange Theory and Applications,'' Academic Press, Inc., New York, 1949, p. 351-61. .. (23) LEDERER, "An Introduction to Paper Electrophoresis M., and Related Method?," D. Van Nastrand Co., Inc., Princeton, 1957, p. 92. R. A,, (24) STAUFFER, E., in WEISSBERGER, "Technique of
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( h ) CONROY, A N D CHAKVABARTI,K., "Tetrahedron H., T. Let,t~rs 4," 1956, p. 6. No.
Volume 37, Number 9, September 1960
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