A Comparison of Headspace Solid-phase Microextraction and Classic Hydrodistillation for the Identification of Volatile Constituents from Thapsia spp. Provides Insights into Guaianolide Biosynthesis in Apiaceae


H. T. Simonsen, Department of Plant Biology and Biotechnology, VKR Research Centre Pro-Active Plants, University of Copenhagen, 1871-DK Frederiksberg, Denmark. E-mail: hts@life.ku.dk



Thapsia spp. (Apiaceae) are the major natural source of polyoxygenated guaianolide sesquiterpene lactones known as thapsigargins, which induce apoptosis in mammalian cells via a high affinity inhibition of the sarco/endoplasmic reticulum Ca2+ ATPase. The mechanism of biosynthesis of thapsigargins has not been elucidated, and probable biochemical precursors such as hydrocarbon or oxygenated sesquiterpenes have not been identified in previous phytochemical analyses of essential oils from this genus.


To investigate the utility of solid phase micro-extraction (SPME), when compared with classical essential oil distillates, for identifying potential precursors of guaianolide sesquiterpene lactones from Thapsia garganica L. and Thapsia villosa L. type II.


A systematic description of the volatile components of roots, flowers, stems and fruits of T. villosa and of root, flower and fruits of T. garganica was constructed via GC-MS analyses of SPME-adsorbed compounds and of essential oils obtained through hydrodistillation of the same tissues.


The sesquiterpenoids δ-cadinene, α- and δ-guaiene, elemol and guaiols were found to be major volatile constituents of the roots of T. garganica and T. villosa trapped using SPME. In contrast, these sesquiterpenoids were not detected or were at negligible levels in essential oils, where sesquiterpenoids are potentially converted to azulenes during hydrodistillation.


The new data reported in this study demonstrates that SPME is a valuable tool for the identification of volatile sesquiterpenes when compared with analysis of essential oils, and we postulate that guaiene is the likely precursor of guaianolide sesquiterpenes from Thapsia. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.