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Digital archive of theses discussed at the University of Pisa


Thesis etd-06202016-130520

Thesis type
Tesi di laurea magistrale LM5
Thesis title
Course of study
relatore Prof. Minutolo, Filippo
relatore Dott.ssa Granchi, Carlotta
  • LDH
  • carotenoids
  • cancer
Graduation session start date
Release date
Every living cell needs energy to maintain all the physiological functions that are fundamental to life. This energy, stored as ATP, is produced through biochemical reactions that start from various organic precursors, the most important of which is glucose.
Glucose can be metabolized differently according to the presence or absence of oxygen. It is oxidised through glycolysis to obtain 2 molecules of ATP and 2 molecules of pyruvate and, in presence of oxygen, pyruvate is hence processed through the tricarboxylic acid cycle, generating further molecules of ATP. These chemical reactions can occur only in presence of electron donor species such as NAD+ and FAD, and once they are consumed and transformed to NADH and FADH2, neither glycolysis nor tricarboxylic acid cycle can restart. In fact, a metabolic process called OXPHOS (Oxidative Phosphorylation) and set in mitochondria provides the restoration of NAD+ and FAD, converting the atmospheric O2 into H2O and producing 30 further molecules of ATP. In conditions of absence of oxygen the tricarboxylic acid cycle and OXPHOS cannot occur. Thus other kinds of processes are designated for the reconversion of NADH and FADH2, the most important of which utilizes the enzyme Lactate Dehydrogenase (LDH), which operates the oxidation of pyruvate, generated through glycolysis, to lactate, with the contemporary conversion of NADH to NAD+.
LDH is involved in the production of energy in many cases. Skeletal muscle under strenuous physical exertion and cancer cells, for example, are characterized by low oxygen pressure and thus they cannot exploit OXPHOS, so they must rely on lactic fermentation and glycolysis only.
Also Plasmodium falciparum (the pathogen agent of malaria) during the erythrocyte phase of its lifecycle, utilizes LDH in its metabolism to produce energy. In fact, it is believed that, in spite of the normal levels of oxygen, the Plasmodium conducts the tricarboxylic acid cycle only to produce Succinyl-CoA, in order to biosynthesize haem, so that the production of energy is completely due to glycolysis coupled to lactic fermentation.
Therefore, the pharmacological inhibition of LDH can be useful, for example, in the treatment of cancer and of malaria, because it leads glycolytic cells to starvation and death, as they would not be able to start new glycolytic cycles, once the cofactor NAD+ has been consumed. Moreover, it is demonstrated that the loss of functionality of LDH harms only glycolytic cells, without affecting all the cells characterized by the normal aerobic metabolism.
Since ancient times, saffron (the dry stigma of Crocus sativus L.) has been used as flavoring and colouring for food and also as curative plant according to the Indian, Chinese and Arabian traditional medicine.
From the analysis of the natural extract of the dried stigmas, we found that this plant is endowed with inhibitory activity on LDH. Hence, the study of its chemical composition followed, in order to characterize the compounds responsible for the activity. Saffron is mainly constituted of natural carotenoids, compounds that can be found in many vegetables and fruits and are synthesized by microorganisms, plants and fungi as antioxidant agents and ROS scavengers. They are constituted of eight isoprenoid units and are responsible for the yellow-orange-red colour of these foods. The principal carotenoids contained in saffron are crocin and crocetin. They share the same carbon backbone, although crocin is the digentiobiosyl ester of crocin.
Crocetin turned out to be more active than crocin, in its ability to inhibit LDH, so it may be considered as one of the most promising compounds among the saffron carotenoids, also because its chemical structure provides a high freedom of movement inside the active site of the enzyme.
In this work pure crocetin has been synthesized through a multi-step synthesis and then functionalized in order to promote a better activity on LDH.
It is a convergent synthesis that consists in the connection of the final products of two different branches named A and B.
Branch A leads to the formation of a phosphonium ylide which is connected, thank to a Wittig reaction, to the dialdehyde synthesized through branch B. The product obtained is the dimethyl crocetinate, which is then hydrolyzed to give the disodium crocetinate, and this compound is then acidified to form crocetin. Crocetin or the disodium crocetinate were further functionalized to produce several derivatives.