The study of flavonolignan association patterns in fruits of diverging Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertn. chemotypes provides new insights into the silymarin biosynthetic pathway.Phytochemistry 2017; 144:9-18P
Silymarin is the phytochemical with medicinal properties extracted from Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertn. fruits. Yet, little information is available about silymarin biosynthesis. Moreover, the generally accepted pathway, formulated thus far, is not in agreement with actual experimental measurements on flavonolignan contents. The present work analyses flavonolignan and taxifolin content in 201 S. marianum samples taking into consideration a wide phenotypic variability. Two stable chemotypes were identified: one characterized by both high silychristin and silybin content (chemotype A) and another by a high silydianin content (chemotype B). Through the correlation analysis of samples divided according to chemotype, it was possible to construct a simplified silymarin biosynthetic pathway that is sufficiently versatile in explaining experimental results responding to the actually unresolved questions about this process. The proposed pathway highlights that three separate and equally sized metabolite pools exist, namely: diastereoisomers A (silybin A plus isosilybin A), diastereoisomers B (silybin B plus isosilybin B) and silychristin. In both A and B diastereoisomers pools, isosilybin A and isosilybin B always represent a given amount of the metabolite flux through the specific metabolite pool suggesting the possible involvement of dirigent protein-like enzymes. We suggest that chemotype B possesses a complete silymarin biosynthetic pathway in which silydianin biosynthesis is enzymatically controlled. On the contrary, chemotype A is probably a natural mutant unable to biosynthesize silydianin. The present simplified pathway for silymarin biosynthesis will constitute an important tool for the further understanding of the reactions that drive flavonolignan biosynthesis in S. marianum.