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The conversion of nicotine to nornicotine by Nicotiana plumbaginifolia Viv. cells was investigated by analysing the redistribution of label during feeding experiments with (R,S)-[2H- methyl]nicotine, (R,S)-[13C- methyl]nicotine and (R,S)-[14C- methyl]nicotine, and the results show that the N-methyl group of nicotine can be recycled into primary metabolism. Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) analysis of ethanolic extracts of cells grown in the presence of (R,S)-[13C- methyl]nicotine, using 1H-13C correlation spectroscopy (HMQC, HMBC), revealed the presence of [3-13C]serine and [13C- methyl]methionine. Label was also identified in a cysteinyl derivative and in several methoxylated compounds, but no evidence was obtained with either NMR or ion-trap mass spectrometry for the presence of any intermediate between nicotine and nornicotine. However, experiments with (R,S)-[14C- methyl]nicotine indicated that 70-75% of the metabolised label was released as carbon dioxide. These results are consistent with a pathway in which the oxidative hydrolysis of the nicotine methyl produces an unstable intermediate, N'-hydroxymethylnornicotine, that breaks down spontaneously to nornicotine and formaldehyde, with the formaldehyde being metabolised either directly to formate and carbon dioxide, or through the tetrahydrofolate-mediated pathways of one-carbon metabolism. However since the key intermediate, N-hydroxymethylnornicotine, could not be detected, the possibility of a direct methyl group transfer to tetrahydrofolate cannot be excluded.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





911 - 919


Carbon Radioisotopes, Cells, Cultured, Cysteine, Homocysteine, Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy, Methionine, Methylation, Models, Chemical, Nicotine, Plant Extracts, Serine, Tetrahydrofolates, Tobacco