Benzophenanthridines, naturally occurring isoquinoline alkaloids with various biological activities, are known to exist in five plant families, namely, the Fumariaceae (Genera Corydalis, Dicentra and Fumaria), the Papaveraceae, and the Rutaceae. Members of this family are generally investigated for potential biological activities. Among those, sanguinarine shows antibacterial and antifungal activities while nitidine and fagaronine are investigated as potential anti-tumor and antiviral agents. Many new alkaloids and new synthetic pathways are reported in the literature.
This research focuses on the development of a facile synthetic methodology of benzo[c]phenanthridines. 7-Hydroxynitidine, a modified benzo[c]phenanthridine alkaloid, is shown to have strong cytotoxic activity against HeLa S3 cells. The presence of the 7-hydroxy group enhances anti-tumor activity. The current work proposes a simpler, more economical process to synthesize any one of these alkaloids.