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erpenes are polymers of isoprenoid units. These isoprenoid units are five carbon compounds and are favorite nature’s building blocks. In terpenes these isoprenoids are arranged in a regular head to tail fashion. The side chains of Vitamin A, E, K, squalene (unsaturated hydrocarbon found in shark, humans) are all constituents of terpenes. Terpenes emit fragrances which allow them to be used as insect repellants, aids in pollination, perfume preparation, cosmetics and also has many medicinal values if used in required quantities. Adverse usage of terpenes has toxic effects like seizures, CNS depression, nausea vomiting etc.
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Biomedicine and Biotechnology, 2015, Vol. 3, No. 1, 8-10
Available online at http://pubs.sciepub.com/bb/3/1/2
© Science and Education Publishing
DOI:10.12691/bb-3-1-2
Biomedical Significance of Terpenes: An Insight
Sabitha Kandi1, Vikram Godishala2, Pragna Rao3, K.V. Ramana4,*
1Department of Biochemistry, Chalmeda AnandRao Institute of Medical Sciences, Karimnagar, Telangana, India
2Department of Biotechnology, Vaagdevi Degree and PG College, Warangal, Telangana, India
3Department of Biochemistry, Manipal University, Manipal, Karnataka, India
4Department of Microbiology, Prathima Institute of Medical Sciences, Karimnagar, Telangana, India
*Corresponding author: ramana_20021@rediffmail.com
Received November 08, 2014; Revised February 27, 2015; Accepted March 01, 2015
Abstract Terpenes are polymers of isoprenoid units. These isoprenoid units are five carbon compounds and are
favorite nature’s building blocks. In terpenes these isoprenoids are arranged in a regular head to tail fashion. The side
chains of Vitamin A, E, K, squalene (unsaturated hydrocarbon found in shark, humans) are all constituents of
terpenes. Terpenes emit fragrances which allow them to be used as insect repellants, aids in pollination, perfume
preparation, cosmetics and also has many medicinal values if used in required quantities. Adverse usage of terpenes
has toxic effects like seizures, CNS depression, nausea vomiting etc.
Keywords: terpenes, isoprenoid unit, squalene
Cite This Article: Sabitha Kandi, Vikram Godishala, Pragna Rao, and K.V. Ramana, Biomedical
Significance of Terpenes: An Insight.” Biomedicine and Biotechnology, vol. 3, no. 1 (2015): 8-10. doi:
10.12691/bb-3-1-2.
1. Introduction and Historical Background
History of terpenes dates back to various civilizations.
The essential oils were used in the ancient Egypt for
various ceremonies. Camphor was introduced by Arabs
around 11th century. The process of distillation of oils
from rosemary and sage was described by Arnaud de
Villanosa (1th century). Analyses of oils obtained from
plants started by JJ Houston in 1818. Dumas proposed the
name ‘Terpene” derived from turpentine. In 1887, Wallah
O proposed that isoprenoid unit (5C) is present always in
terpenes. The structure of beta carotene from carrot was
isolated by Wackenrodder and its correct molecular
formula was determined by Will Statter [1,2,3,4].
2. Molecular Structure of Terpenes
Terpenes are polymers of five carbon hydrocarbon
isoprene and are miscellaneous lipids found in all living
organisms and natural products [5,6,7]. The isoprene (5C)
unit is the nature’s favorite building block. Terpenes have
many isoprene units attached in a regular head to tail
fashion [8]. The side chains in vitamin A, E, K, beta
carotene, squalene are examples of terpenes (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Molecular structure of terpenes as observed as a side chain in Vitamin A
Figure 2. The molecular Structure of terpenes as observed in polymers
of isoprenoid units (5C)
Natural rubber is polyterpene containing hundreds of
isoprenes arranged in a regular linear order. The terpenes
of natural product emits characteristic fragranance [9,10].
The products derived from terpenes in living organism
makes it special as it leads to formation of squalene,
cholesterol, sidechains of fat soluble vitamins like A,E,K
and ubiquinone (a component of Electron Transport
Chain). By definition terpenes are volatile, unsaturated
aromatic hydrocarbons found in all living organisms and
Biomedicine and Biotechnology 9
essential oils of plants [11]. Termites swallow tail
butterflies, conifers, citrus plants, eucalyptus tree etc. The
molecular Structure of terpenes includes polymers of
isoprenoid units (5C) (Figure 2).
The number of carbons present in terpenes is multiples
of 5. The isoprenoid units are arranged in head to tail
fashion to form terpenes. Terpenoids are also terpenes but
contain an oxygen atom [11]. Terpenes are released by
trees more actively in warmer weather and acts as a
natural form of cloud seeding. The clouds reflect sunlight,
allowing the forest to regulate its temperature [12].
3. Classification of Terpenes
Terpenes are classified based on the attached isoprenoid
unit as Monoterpens (2 isoprenoid units and 10 carbon atoms),
Sesquiterpenes (3 isoprenoid units and 15 carbon atoms),
Diterpenes (4 isoprenoid units and 20 carbon atoms),
Sesterterpenes (5 isoprenoid units and 25 carbon atoms),
Triterpenes (6 isoprenoid units and 30 carbon atoms),
Tetraterpenes (8 isoprenoid units and 40 carbon atoms)
and Polyterpenes ( many isoprenoid units). There are two
metabolic pathways for biosynthesis synthesis of terpenes
[13], including the Mevalonic acid pathway and Methyl
erythritol Phosphate / Deoxy Xylulose Phosphate pathway.
The Mevalonic acid pathway is similar to cholesterol
synthesis via the enzyme HMG-CoASH reductase. These
reactions take place in the cytosol (Figure 3).
Figure 3. The Mevalonic acid pathway that occurs in cytosol of living cells
Figure 4. The Methyl erythritol phosphate or non-mevalonic acid
pathway which occurs in plastids of plants, apicomplexa group of
protozoa and many bacteria
In this pathway, the formation of isopentenyl
didphosphate, a 5 carbon compound is the initial stage of
terpene formation. The squalene that is formed in this
pathway, a 30 carbon cyclic compound is an unsaturated
hydrocarbon present in shark and mammalian liver and
human sebum. The squalene leads to synthesis of
cholesterol, carotenoids, ubiquinone. The Methyl
erythritol phosphate or Deoxy xylulose phosphate
pathway (DOXP) is also called non-mevalonic acid
pathway which occurs in plastids of plants, apicomplexa
group of protozoa and many bacteria (Figure 4).
After the formation of IPP and DAP the pathway is
similar in both. Synthesis of all higher terpenes/terpenoids
occurs via formation of GPP and FPP. Terpene synthesis
pathways occurring in various living organisms include
bacteria (MAP and MEP), Algae (MAP), Plants (MAP
and MEP), Animals (MAP) and Fungi ( MAP) [14,15].
10 Biomedicine and Biotechnology
4. Biomedical Importance of Terpenes
The biomedical importance of terpenes includes their
use in the preparation of perfumes. The natural products
such as menthol, citrus, spices are terpenes mostly used in
the perfume preparation. Terpenes are also used as insect
repellants. The main constituent of many insect repellants
is citronella, Limonene from citrus plants, eucalyptus,
lavender, mint. They appear in the leaves, bark, roots, and
flowers of these plants. Terpenes present in these plants
naturally wards off insects acting as insect repellant.
Turpentine oil, Chamomile and Arnica, Shark derived oils
are terpenes used in the preparation of cosmetics. The
characteristic fragrances of terpenes make them to use in
aromatherapy. Terpenes like Limonene, Pinene are used
as air fresheners. They elevate the mood of an individual.
Because of their pungent smell, terpenes naturally wards
off insects and herbivores and aid in the pollination.
5. Madicinal Value of Terpenes
The medicinal uses of terpenes and their derivatives
include the use of eucalyptus oil and clover leaf oils in
dentistry. Eucalyptus oil helps in the stimulating the
secretion of mucus hence acts as expectorant. Terpenes
also act as diuretics and helps in relieving gastrointestinal
spasms (Eucalyptus oil). Terpenes are added to creams
and ointments to relieve pain and itching. Terpenes also
possess antimicrobial properties thus, helps to fight
microorganisms resistant to antibiotics such as yeast and
other fungi [16,17]. Terpenes like menthol when consumed
as a tea aids to reduce flatulence and indigestion. Other
uses of terpenes include the preparations of rubber and
resins, as natural agricultural pesticides. Terpenes are also
used by termites (Nasutitermitinae family) to attack
enemy insects by a mechanism called a fontanellar gun.
Adverse/ Toxic effects of terpenes and their derivatives
include depressive effects on Central Nervous System
(CNS) and respiratory disorders in case of aspiration of
increased quantities. Clinical symptoms of terpene
overdose/poisoning are nausea; vomiting and seizures.
Children are the most common victims of terpene
poisoning by accidental ingestion. Certain Terpenes
present in plant oils have hallucinogenic effects and might
lead to drug abuse.
6. Conclusion and Future Perspectives
Terpenes are naturally occurring chemical substances
produced both from plants and animals. In the era of
emerging multi-drug resistance, where microorganisms
resistant to most of the antimicrobial agents available are
fast spreading, research is on to find alternatives to
antibiotics. Non-infectious conditions including cancers
have been known to contribute to extensive morbidity and
mortality in humans. Research must be encouraged in
future to evaluate the anti-microbial (bactericidal,
fungicidal, anti-parasitic and virucidal) and anti-cancer
properties of terpenes and their derivatives. Medicinal
properties of terpenes and terpenoids need to be
extensively evaluated for their anti-tumor activity, anti-
microbial properties, anti-inflammatory effects, anti-
hyperglycemic properties, treatment for neuropsychological
disorders and other potential uses that may include and not
limited to treatment of autoimmune allergic skin disorders,
cleansing environment of toxic chemicals, treatment of
water and in preparation of plant pesticides
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Mevalonic acid, biosynthetic precursor of cholesterol
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Tavormina P A e al. Mevalonic acid, biosynthetic precursor of cholesterol. J Am Chem Soc. 1956:78:4498.
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