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Toxicon. 1987;25(10):1023-95.

Further classification of skin alkaloids from neotropical poison frogs (Dendrobatidae), with a general survey of toxic/noxious substances in the amphibia.

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  • 1Laboratory of Bioorganic Chemistry, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Bethesda, Maryland 20892.


Cutaneous granular glands are a shared character of adult amphibians, including caecilians, and are thought to be the source of most biologically active compounds in amphibian skin. Data are available from one or more species in over 100 of nearly 400 genera comprising the three living orders of Amphibia. Many species contain unidentified substances judged to be noxious based on predator aversion or human taste. Additionally, there is a great diversity of known compounds, some highly toxic as well as noxious, which can be tabulated under four broad categories: biogenic amines, peptides, bufodienolides (bufogenins) and alkaloids. The last category includes alkaloids derived from biogenic amines, water-soluble alkaloids (tetrodotoxins) and lipophilic alkaloids. Most compounds are known only from skin of adult amphibians, but the toxic and noxious properties of eggs and larvae of certain salamanders and toads can be attributed to tetrodotoxins and bufodienolides, which occur also in adult tissues other than skin. Predator aversion and various antipredator behaviors and aposematic colorations clearly prove the defensive value of these diverse metabolites, whether or not they are elaborated primarily (e.g. alkaloids) or secondarily (e.g. some peptides and biogenic amines) for this function. Lipophilic alkaloids include the samandarine alkaloids, known definitely only from an Old World genus of salamanders, and the more than 200 dendrobatid alkaloids. Nearly all the latter are unique to neotropical poison frogs of the genera Dendrobates and Phyllobates (Dendrobatidae), except for seemingly homoplastic occurrences of a few such alkaloids in small brightly colored anurans of several other families. Owing to recent discoveries and new structural information, the dendrobatid alkaloids are here partitioned among the following major and minor classes: batrachotoxins, histrionicotoxins, indolizidines, pumiliotoxin-A class and its allopumiliotoxin and homopumiliotoxin subclasses, decahydroquinolines, gephyrotoxins, 2,6-disubstituted piperidines, 2,5-disubstituted pyrrolidines, pyridyl-piperidines, indole alkaloids, azatricyclododecenes and amidine alkaloids. Except for the steroidal batrachotoxins, and the minor classes of pyrrolidine alkaloids, indole alkaloids and amidine alkaloids, all the above contain a piperidine ring. A large number of piperidine-based alkaloids occur mainly as trace compounds in Dendrobates and remain unclassified; the only water-soluble toxin so far discovered in a dendrobatid (Colostethus) is structurally unknown, but conceivably an alkaloid.

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