Natural products as probes of cell biology: 20 years of didemnin research



The discovery of the didemnin family of marine depsipeptides launched an exciting and intriguing chapter in natural product chemistry. The unusual structure of the didemnin congeners has led to several total syntheses by research groups from around the world. The impressive in vitro and in vivo biological activities of the didemnins resulted in the first human clinical trials in the U.S. of a marine natural product against cancer, and additional clinical trials of a second-generation didemnin, dehydrodidemnin B (aplidine), are underway. As we mark the 20-year anniversary of the discovery of the didemnins, this class of natural products continues to stimulate active research in fields ranging from synthetic and medicinal chemistry to clinical oncology and cell biology. While some progress was made in dissecting the molecular mechanism of action and in establishing structure-activity relationships, there are still more questions than answers. This review covers the recent didemnin literature, highlighting the work directed towards understanding how this group of natural products interact with fundamental processes such as cell proliferation, protein biosynthesis, and apoptosis. The didemnin field illustrates how natural product chemistry may be used as a critical tool for the study of cell biology. © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Med Res Rev, 22, No. 2, 102–145, 2002; DOI 10.1002/med.10003