The function of terpene natural products in the natural world

Abstract

As the largest class of natural products, terpenes have a variety of roles in mediating antagonistic and beneficial interactions among organisms. They defend many species of plants, animals and microorganisms against predators, pathogens and competitors, and they are involved in conveying messages to conspecifics and mutualists regarding the presence of food, mates and enemies. Despite the diversity of terpenes known, it is striking how phylogenetically distant organisms have come to use similar structures for common purposes. New natural roles undoubtedly remain to be discovered for this large class of compounds, given that such a small percentage of terpenes has been investigated so far.

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Figure 1: Examples of terpenes with established functions in nature.
Figure 2: Structurally similar terpenes often have very different ranges of biological activities.
Figure 3: Mode of action of the Artemisia annua sesquiterpene lactone artemisinin against the malarial parasite.
Figure 4: Mixtures of terpenes, such as conifer resin, may act synergistically in defense.

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Acknowledgements

The authors are grateful to K. Falk for help with references and figures, and to the Max Planck Society (J.G.), the German National Science Foundation (J.G.), the European Commission (J.G.), and the US National Science Foundation (N.D.) for supporting their research on terpenes.

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Correspondence to Jonathan Gershenzon.

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Gershenzon, J., Dudareva, N. The function of terpene natural products in the natural world. Nat Chem Biol 3, 408–414 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1038/nchembio.2007.5

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