Nature's chemical weapons save lives

COLLEGE STATION, -Chemical warfare isn't just for humans. Some marine organisms have a knack for it, too, and chemists at Texas A&M University think the sea-life version might have medical applications.

"Many marine organisms have developed chemical means to defend themselves. These chemical warfare agents continue to be useful lead compounds for cellular studies and drug development," said Daniel Romo, a synthetic organic chemist and associate professor in the Department of Chemistry at Texas A&M.

One of Romo's current research interests is structural, synthetic, and biomechanistic investigations of marine natural products displaying potent physiological effects.

One such compound, pateamine A, isolated from a marine sponge found off the shores of New Zealand, has been studied by Romo's group for seven years. Its novel structure and immunosuppressive activity drew the group's interest.

"Immunosuppressive compounds are used clinically for patients undergoing organ transplantation," Romo said. "Such compounds are given to moderate the activity of the immune system so that the body does not reject the organ."

Romo's group completed a total synthesis of Pateamine A in 1998, putting together this complex molecule bond by bond from simple and commercially available starting materials.

Since that time, Romo's group has been synthesizing derivatives of this natural product based on the published synthetic route. One set of derivatives will enable these chemists, in collaboration with biochemists, to find a potentially new cellular protein involved in the normal human immune response.

The hypothesis is that binding of pateamine A to this protein is the basis of its immunosuppressive effects. They also hope to find compounds that have increased chemical stability and potentially increased immunosuppressive activity.

This study has the potential to lead to the development of new immunosuppressive drugs. In fa

Contact: Keith Randall
Texas A&M University

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