A newly discovered step in the biosynthesis of the cat crazy compound may help synthetic biologists engineer pathways to pharmaceuticals.
NeptalACETON (not a nail varnish remover!) is best known for instigating the euphoric frenzy that cats and other felines experience when they smell catnip. The full chemical tale of the synthesis is difficult to pin down.
However, researchers have discovered that catnip and other plants in the Nepeta genus cyclize the molecule via an unusual two-step pathway (Nat. Chem. Biol. 2018, DOI: 10.1038/s41589-018-0185-2). The discovery may help synthetic biologists efficiently synthesize closely related molecules that are widely used as pharmaceuticals.
For example: (+)-englerin A, which is isolated from a plant native to Tanzania, has promising activity against kidney cancer cell lines.