Use of a temporary immersion bioreactor system for the sustainable production of thapsigargin in shoot cultures of Thapsia garganica

Carmen Quiñonero López, Patricia Corral, Bénédicte Lorrain-Lorrette, Karen Martinez-Swatson, Franck Michoux, Henrik Toft Simonsen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Background: Thapsigargin and nortrilobolide are sesquiterpene lactones found in the Mediterranean plant Thapsia garganica L. Thapsigargin is a potent inhibitor of the sarco/endoplasmic reticulum calcium ATPase pump, inducing apoptosis in mammalian cells. This mechanism has been used to develop a thapsigargin-based cancer drug first by GenSpera and later Inspyr Therapeutics (Westlake Village, California). However, a stable production of thapsigargin is not established. 

Results: In vitro regeneration from leaf explants, shoot multiplication and rooting of T. garganica was obtained along with the production of thapsigargins in temporary immersion bioreactors (TIBs). Thapsigargin production was enhanced using reduced nutrient supply in combination with methyl jasmonate elicitation treatments. Shoots grown in vitro were able to produce 0.34% and 2.1% dry weight of thapsigargin and nortrilobolide, respectively, while leaves and stems of wild T. garganica plants contain only between 0.1 and 0.5% of thapsigargin and below detectable levels of nortrilobolide. In addition, a real-time reverse transcription PCR (qRT-PCR) study was performed to study the regulatory role of the biosynthetic genes HMG-CoA reductase (HMGR), farnesyl diphosphate synthase (FPPS), epikunzeaol synthase (TgTPS2) and the cytochrome P450 (TgCYP76AE2) of stem, leaf and callus tissues. Nadi staining showed that the thapsigargins are located in secretory ducts within these tissues. 

Conclusions: Shoot regeneration, rooting and biomass growth from leaf explants of T. garganica were achieved, together with a high yield in vitro production of thapsigargin in TIBs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number79
JournalPlant Methods
Issue number1
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Bibliographical note

Open Access: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (


  • In vitro shoot cultures
  • Nortrilobolide
  • Sesquiterpenes
  • Temporary immersion bioreactor
  • TgTPS2 and TgCYP76AE2
  • Thapsia garganica
  • Thapsigargin


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