Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman has over 1080 publications in the fields of organic chemistry including 37 patents, 222 books and 69 chapters in books published by major U.S. and European presses and 759 research publications in leading international journals. On the basis of his researches,
81 students have been awarded Ph.D. degrees in various areas of natural product chemistry.
(a) Isolation and Structure Elucidation of Bioactive Compounds
Atta-ur-Rahman’s work on the isolation and structure elucidation of bioactive substances from medicinal plants as well as marine plants and animals has resulted in the discovery of several hundred new/novel natural products many of which have exhibited exciting biological activities including anti-oxidant, anti-epileptic, anti-leishmania, anti-AIDS, immunomodulating, anti-asthamatic, analgesic, nematicidal and anti-cancer activities. These are exemplified by researches on cholinesterase – inhibiting steroidal alkaloids from Sarcocca saligna with potential applications in Alzheimer’s disease (No. 573), [Helv. Chim. Acta, 87, 439-448 (2004)], new a-glucosidase inhibitors from Ferula mongolica (No. 519), [Helv. Chim. Acta., 84, 2409 (2001)], anti-fungal diterpenoid alkaloids from Delphinium denudatum (No. 448), [J. Nat. Prod., 60, 472-474 (1997)], anti-bacterial steroidal alkaloids from Sarcocca saligna (No. 476) [J. Nat. Prod., 61, 202-206 (1998)] etc. A number of binary and dimeric alkaloids have also been reported from terrestrial and marine sources.
(b) Development of New Methods for Structure Elucidation
A new convenient method was developed for the determination of absolute configurations of chiral carboxylic acids, a-amino acids, amino alcohols, polynucleic acids and ephedrine isomers by partially or totally restricting their conformational flexibility through complexation with trinuclear metal complexes [M3O(O2CCH3)6L3]n where M = Fe, Cr, Mn, Rh, Ru etc., L = water or pyridine and n = 0 or 1 (No. 404), [J. Am. Chem. Soc., 115, 12533-12544 (1993)]. The method was extended to peptides (No. 490), [Nat. Prod. Lett., 13(2), 131 (1999)]. He has also developed correlations between structures of steroidal alkaloids with their specific rotations (No. 280), [Tetrahedron, 42(20), 5747 (1986)].
(c) Synthetic Transformations of Biologically and Biosynthetically Interesting Compounds
An intriguing challenge in the late 60′s / early 70’s was the biosynthetic origin of the tetracyclic indole moiety of vinblastine/vincristine, anti-tumor alkaloids of Catharanthus roseus (marketed by Ely Lilly & Co. for acute leukaemia in children, Hodgkins disease and other cancers under the trade names of “Velbe” and “Oncovin”). It was believed that such tetracyclic indoles would exist in the plant but no such tetracyclic indoles had been isolated. Atta-ur-Rahman first proposed that vinblastine may arise from a pentacyclic precursor alkaloid such as catharanthine. He demonstrated the conversion of pentacyclic catharanthine into the tetracyclic “cleavamine” moiety in high yields, leading to the first synthetic vinblastine derivative (No. 151), [Pak. J. Sci. Ind. Res., 14(6), 487 (1971)]. This approach (i.e. using catharanthine as the precursor) became the preferred procedure for subsequent synthetic approaches to these anti-leukemic alkaloids. A biomimetic synthesis of vinblastine was subsequently developed and patented (No. 594), [Pakistan Patent No. 126852, dated 14-2-1978]. Interesting synthetic transformations /rearrangements discovered include the high yield fragmentation of the hexacyclic 16-epi-19-S-vindolinine to a tricyclic indole (No. 221), [Heterocycles, 20(1), 59 (1983)]. The work of the Nobel Laureate Sir Robert Robinson & co-workers on the chemistry of harmaline was also corrected and it was shown that an interesting ring fragmentation occurs with Nb-acetyl harmaline under certain conditions (No. 152), [J. Chem. Soc. Perkin Trans. I., 736 (1972)] and (No. 153), [J. Chem. Soc. Perkin Trans. I., (5), 731 (1972)]; [Chem. Abs., 76, 127211u (1972)].
BOOKS & JOURNALS WRITTEN OR EDITED
Prof. Atta-ur- Rahman has written or edited 188 books. His first book entitled “Biosynthesis of Indole Alkaloids” was published by Oxford University Press, England as Vol. 7 of their prestigious “International Series of Monographs in Chemistry” in 1983. His book entitled “Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy” published by Springer-Verlag, New York in 1986, was the first text book to have a detailed discussion on 2D-NMR spectroscopy. Its success in USA and Europe prompted it to be translated into Japanese language by two Japanese Professors, Prof. H. Hirota from Tokyo University and Prof. Motoo Tori from Tokushima Bunri University and the Japanese language version was published in May 1988 by Springer-Verlag, Tokyo. His book entitled “Stereoselective Synthesis in Organic Chemistry”, published by Springer-Verlag, Germany was appreciated by the Nobel Laureate Sir D.H.R. Barton, who wrote its Foreword and called it “a monomental tome”. His book entitled “One and Two Dimensional NMR Spectroscopy” was published by Elsevier Science Publishers, Amsterdam in Netherlands. His book on NMR Spectroscopy entitled “Solving Problems with NMR Spectroscopy”, was published by Academic Press, USA, in 1996 the foreword of which was contributed by Nobel Laureate Prof. R. R. Ernst of Switzerland. A revised edition of the same book has recently been published and foreword of it has been written by Nobel Laureate Prof. R. R. Ernst. Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman is the editor of a prestigious series of books being published by Elsevier Science Publishers, Amsterdam, Netherlands. This series is entitled “Studies in Natural Products Chemistry” and volumes 1 to 49 of the series (ten volumes on stereoselective synthesis, two on structure elucidation, seven on structure and chemistry and fourteen on bioactive natural products) have been published by Elsevier during 1988-2015. Another series entitled “ 13 C-NMR of Natural Products” is also being published under the editorship of Prof. Atta-ur- Rahman and Prof. V.U. Ahmad, and two volumes have so far been published by Plenum Press (U.S.A.).
Three volumes of another series of books entitled, “Handbook of Natural Products Data”, have also been published by Elsevier, The Netherlands under the editorship of Prof. Atta-ur- Rahman (one of these is co-edited with Prof. V.U. Ahmad).