Discovery of Cyclotides in the Fabaceae Plant Family Provides New Insights into the Cyclization, Evolution, and Distribution of Circular Proteins Academic Article uri icon


  • Cyclotides are plant proteins whose defining structural features are a head-to-tail cyclized backbone and three interlocking disulfide bonds, which in combination are known as a cyclic cystine knot. This unique structural motif confers cyclotides with exceptional resistance to proteolysis. Their endogenous function is thought to be as plant defense agents, associated with their insecticidal and larval growth-inhibitory properties. However, in addition, an array of pharmaceutically relevant biological activities has been ascribed to cyclotides, including anti-HIV, anthelmintic, uterotonic, and antimicrobial effects. So far, >150 cyclotides have been elucidated from members of the Rubiaceae, Violaceae, and Cucurbitaceae plant families, but their wider distribution among other plant families remains unclear. Clitoria ternatea (Butterfly pea) is a member of plant family Fabaceae and through its usage in traditional medicine to aid childbirth bears similarity to Oldenlandia affinis, from which many cyclotides have been isolated. Using a combination of nanospray and matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization-time-of-flight (MALDI-TOF) analyses, we examined seed extracts of C. ternatea and discovered cyclotides in the Fabaceae, the third-largest family of flowering plants. We characterized 12 novel cyclotides, thus expanding knowledge of cyclotide distribution and evolution within the plant kingdom. The discovery of cyclotides containing novel sequence motifs near the in planta cyclization site has provided new insights into cyclotide biosynthesis. In particular, MS analyses of the novel cyclotides from C. ternatea suggest that Asn to Asp variants at the cyclization site are more common than previously recognized. Moreover, this study provides impetus for the examination of other economically and agriculturally significant species within Fabaceae, now the largest plant family from which cyclotides have been described.


  • Poth, Aaron G
  • Colgrave, Michelle L
  • Philip, Reynold
  • Kerenga, Bomai
  • Daly, Norelle L
  • Anderson, Marilyn A
  • Craik, David J

publication date

  • April 15, 2011