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eISSN: 1643-3750

Alkaloids, Nitric Oxide, and Nitrite Reductases: Evolutionary Coupling as Key Regulators of Cellular Bioenergetics with Special Relevance to the Human Microbiome

George B. Stefano, Richard M. Kream

Department of Psychiatry, First Faculty of Medicine Charles University in Prague, Prague, Czech Republic

Med Sci Monit 2018; 24:3153-3158

DOI: 10.12659/MSM.909409

Available online:

Published: 2018-05-14


ABSTRACT: Typical alkaloids expressed by prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells are small heterocyclic compounds containing weakly basic nitrogen groups that are critically important for mediating essential biological activities. The prototype opiate alkaloid morphine represents a low molecular mass heterocyclic compound that has been evolutionarily fashioned from a relatively restricted role as a secreted antimicrobial phytoalexin into a broad spectrum regulatory molecule. As an essential corollary, positive evolutionary pressure has driven the development of a cognate 6-transmembrane helical (TMH) domain μ3 opiate receptor that is exclusively responsive to morphine and related opiate alkaloids. A key aspect of “morphinergic” signaling mediated by μ3 opiate receptor activation is its functional coupling with regulatory pathways utilizing constitutive nitric oxide (NO) as a signaling molecule. Importantly, tonic and phasic intra-mitochondrial NO production exerts profound inhibitory effects on the rate of electron transport, H+ pumping, and O2 consumption. Given the pluripotent role of NO as a selective, temporally-defined chemical regulator of mitochondrial respiration and cellular bioenergetics, the expansion of prokaryotic denitrification systems into mitochondrial NO/nitrite cycling complexes represents a series of evolutionary modifications of existential proportions. Presently, our short review provides selective discussion of evolutionary development of morphine, opiate alkaloids, μ3 opiate receptors, and NO systems, within the perspectives of enhanced mitochondrial function, cellular bioenergetics, and the human microbiome.

Keywords: Morphine, Alkaloids, Nitric Oxide, Nitrite Reductases, Mitochondria, microbiota, Evolution, Molecular



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