Sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera
Gaertn.) is an ancient aquatic plant used throughout Asia for its nutritional and medicinal properties. Benzylisoquinoline alkaloids (BIAs), mostly within the aporphine and bisbenzylisoquinoline structural categories, are among the main bioactive constituents in the plant. The alkaloids of sacred lotus exhibit promising anti-cancer, anti-arrhythmic, anti-HIV, and anti-malarial properties. Despite their pharmacological significance, BIA metabolism in this non-model plant has not been extensively investigated. In this review, we examine the diversity of BIAs in sacred lotus, with an emphasis on the distinctive stereochemistry of alkaloids found in this species. Additionally, we discuss our current understanding of the biosynthetic genes and enzymes involved in the formation of 1-benzylisoquinoline, aporphine, and bisbenzylisoquinoline alkaloids in the plant. We conclude that a comprehensive functional characterization of alkaloid biosynthetic enzymes using both in vitro and in vivo methods is required to advance our limited knowledge of BIA metabolism in the sacred lotus.
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