AskDefine | Define terpenoid

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  1. A very large class of naturally occurring and synthetic organic compounds formally derived from the hydrocarbon isoprene; they include many volatile compounds used in perfume and food flavours, turpentine, the steroids, the carotene pigments and rubber.

Extensive Definition

The terpenoids, sometimes referred to as isoprenoids, are a large and diverse class of naturally-occurring organic chemicals similar to terpenes, derived from five-carbon isoprene units assembled and modified in thousands of ways. Most are multicyclic structures that differ from one another not only in functional groups but also in their basic carbon skeletons. These lipids can be found in all classes of living things, and are the largest group of natural products.
Plant terpenoids are used extensively for their aromatic qualities. They play a role in traditional herbal remedies and are under investigation for antibacterial, antineoplastic, and other pharmaceutical functions. Terpenoids contribute to the scent of eucalyptus, the flavors of cinnamon, cloves, and ginger, and the color of yellow flowers. Well-known terpenoids include citral, menthol, camphor, Salvinorin A in the plant Salvia divinorum, and the cannabinoids found in Cannabis.
The steroids and sterols in animals are biologically produced from terpenoid precursors. Sometimes terpenoids are added to proteins, e.g., to enhance their attachment to the cell membrane; this is known as isoprenylation.
Many of these are substrates for plant Cytochrome P450.

Structure and classification

Terpenes are hydrocarbons resulting from the combination of several isoprene units. Terpenoids can be thought of as modified terpenes, wherein methyl groups have been moved or removed, or oxygen atoms added. (Some authors use the term "terpene" more broadly, to include the terpenoids.) Just like terpenes, the terpenoids can be classified according to the number of isoprene units used:
  • Monoterpenoids, 2 isoprene units
  • Sesquiterpenoids, 3 isoprene units
  • Diterpenoids, 4 isoprene units
  • Sesterterpenoids, 5 isoprene units
  • Triterpenoids, 6 isoprene units
  • Tetraterpenoids, 8 isoprene units
  • Polyterpenoids with a larger number of isoprene units
Terpenoids can also be classified according to the number of cyclic structures they contain.


There are two metabolic pathways of creating terpenoids:

Mevalonic acid pathway

Many organisms manufacture terpenoids through the HMG-CoA reductase pathway, the pathway that also produces cholesterol. The reactions take place in the cytosol. The pathway was discovered in the 1950s.

MEP/DOXP pathway

The 2-C-methyl-D-erythritol 4-phosphate/1-deoxy-D-xylulose 5-phosphate pathway (MEP/DOXP pathway), also known as non-mevalonate pathway or mevalonic acid independent pathway, takes place in the plastids of plants and apicomplexan protozoa, as well as in many bacteria. It was discovered in the late 1980s.
Pyruvate and glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate are converted by DOXP synthase (Dxs) to 1-deoxy-D-xylulose 5-phosphate, and by DOXP reductase (Dxr, IspC) to 2-C-methyl-D-erythritol 4-phosphate (MEP). The subsequent three reaction steps catalyzed by 4-diphosphocytidyl-2-C-methyl-D-erythritol synthase (YgbP, IspD), 4-diphosphocytidyl-2-C-methyl-D-erythritol kinase (YchB, IspE), and 2-C-methyl-D-erythritol 2,4-cyclodiphosphate synthase (YgbB, IspF) mediate the formation of 2-C-methyl-D-erythritol 2,4-cyclopyrophosphate (MEcPP). Finally, MEcPP is converted to (E)-4-hydroxy-3-methyl-but-2-enyl pyrophosphate (HMB-PP) by HMB-PP synthase (GcpE, IspG), and HMB-PP is converted to isopentenyl pyrophosphate (IPP) and dimethylallyl pyrophosphate (DMAPP) by HMB-PP reductase (LytB, IspH).
IPP and DMAPP are the end-products in either pathway, and are the precursors of isoprene, monoterpenoids (10-carbon), diterpenoids (20-carbon), carotenoids (40-carbon), chlorophylls, and plastoquinone-9 (45-carbon). Synthesis of all higher terpenoids proceeds via formation of geranyl pyrophosphate (GPP), farnesyl pyrophosphate (FPP), and geranylgeranyl pyrophosphate (GGPP).
Although both pathways, MVA and MEP, are mutually exclusive in most organisms, interactions between them have been reported in plants and few bacteria species.
OrganismPathways EubacteriaMVA or MEP ArchaeaMVA Green AlgaeMEP Plants MVA and MEP Animals MVA Fungi MVA

See also

terpenoid in German: Terpenoide
terpenoid in Spanish: Terpenoides
terpenoid in French: terpénoïde
terpenoid in Japanese: テルペノイド
terpenoid in Portuguese: Terpeno
terpenoid in Chinese: 萜类化合物
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