Pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) are feeding deterrents and toxic compounds to generalist herbivores. Among the PAs of Jacobaea vulgaris Gaertn, jacobine and erucifoline are the most effective against insect herbivores as indicated by correlative studies. Because little is known about the effect of jacobine and erucifoline as individual PAs, we isolated these compounds from their respective Jacobaea chemotypes. These PAs and other commercially available senecionine-like PAs, including senecionine, seneciphylline, retrorsine, and senkirkine, were tested as free base and N-oxide forms at a range of 0–70 ppm. Feeding bioassays using live insects are closer to the natural pattern but require relatively large amounts of test compounds. We, therefore, compared the toxicity of PAs using both Spodoptera exigua cell line and larval injection bioassays. Both bioassays led to similar results in the order of PA toxicity, indicating that the cell lines are a valuable tool for a first toxicity screen. Testing individual PAs, jacobine and erucifoline were the most toxic PAs, suggesting their major role in plant defense against generalist herbivores. Senkirkine and seneciphylline were less toxic than jacobine and erucifoline but more toxic than retrorsine. Senecionine was not toxic at the tested concentrations. For all toxic PAs, the free base form was more toxic than the N-oxide form. Our results demonstrate that structural variation of PAs influences their effectiveness in plant defense.
- tertiary amine