This study describes some characteristics of the Rubiaceae family pertaining to the occurrence and distribution of secondary metabolites in the main genera of this family. It reports the review of phytochemical studies addressing all species of Rubiaceae, published between 1990 and 2014. Iridoids, anthraquinones, triterpenes, indole alkaloids as well as other varying alkaloid subclasses, have shown to be the most common. These compounds have been mostly isolated from the genera Uncaria
. The occurrence and distribution of iridoids, alkaloids and anthraquinones point out their chemotaxonomic correlation among tribes and subfamilies. From an evolutionary point of view, Rubioideae is the most ancient subfamily, followed by Ixoroideae and finally Cinchonoideae. The chemical biosynthetic pathway, which is not so specific in Rubioideae, can explain this and large amounts of both iridoids and indole alkaloids are produced. In Ixoroideae, the most active biosysthetic pathway is the one that produces iridoids; while in Cinchonoideae, it produces indole alkaloids together with other alkaloids. The chemical biosynthetic pathway now supports this botanical conclusion.
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