Curare - Botany, Chemistry, and Pharmacology

Norman G. Bisset About the author


Some aspects of curare research carried out over the last 25 years are discussed. Accepting a pharmacological rather than purely ethnological definition means, that curares are not limited to South America but that they are also known from Central Africa and South-EastAsia. Among the criteria that have been suggested for classifying South American curares: type of container, geographical origin, botanical sourcesof the active, constituent!, and chemical composition. A combination of botanical and geographical criteria leads to much the same regional ;groupings a combination of criteria involving the type of container and the chemical composition. The active principles in curares may derive from members of thr Loganiaceae (Strychnos) and/or Menispermaceae mainly Chondrodendron and Curarea, but also Abuta, Anomospermum, Cissampelos, Sciadotenia, and Telitoxicum). Certain of the Strychnos dimeric indole alkaloids can undergo a variety of cleavages, oxidations, and isomerizations; hence., some of the compounds obtained by normal isolation procedures one almost certainly artefacts. The different genera of, Menispermaceae a wide range of bisbenzyl and other types of isoquinoline alkaloids. Many of the plant additives also contain a variety of isoquinoline bases, and this has to be taken into account in assessing the contribution these ingredients may make to the ovzJuxll activity of, curare. Loganiaceae-bated curares with toxiferinzas major alkaloid tend to be the most toxic. In the case of Menispermaceae-based products, there-is evidence that the process by which they are made may lead to a considerable increase in the toxicity of the finished poisons as compared with the original plant materials. The mechanism of action of the alkaloids it, outlined, and the role of curare alkaloids in the development of, present-day muscle-relaxant drugs used in surgery is indicated. Attention lb drawn to reported medicinal uses of some of the alkaloid-bearing plants incorporated into curares, suggesting that further evaluation of these plants may be of interest.

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