Various structure-similar plant secondary metabolites like ginseng saponins (ginsenosides) possess different or even totally opposite biological activities. Intentional manipulation of the ginsenoside heterogeneity in cellular biosynthesis is of great interest and significance [Zhong and Yue (2005); Adv Biochem Eng Biotechnol 100:53-88]. In this work, CO-binding spectra of microsomes prepared from the suspended cells of Panax notoginseng showed increases in absorption at 450 nm compared with the control without CO sparging, and protopanaxadiol 6-hydroxylase (P6H), a new enzyme catalyzing the conversion of ginsenoside aglycone protopanaxadiol into protopanaxatriol, was found. P6H was dependent on NADPH and molecular oxygen. The enzymatic reaction was inhibited by carbon monoxide and partially reversible upon illumination with blue light, and sensitive to cytochrome P450 inhibitors. The results supported the contention that P6H was a cytochrome P450-dependent hydroxylase, whose catalytic product was confirmed to be protopanaxatriol by HPLC-MS. Induction of P6H activity by phenobarbital, a cytochrome P450 inducer, was observed. A maximal activity of P6H was obtained with addition of 0.5 mM phenobarbital on day 4 of shake-flask cultivation. The maximum content of protopanaxatriol-type ginsenosides (Rg(1) and Re, Rg group) and the maximum ratio of the content of protopanaxatriol: protopanaxadiol reached 6.88 +/- 0.21 mg g(-1) dry weight and 7.0, respectively, which was about 1.4 and 2.0-fold that of respective controls (without addition of phenobarbital). Oxidative burst was also observed in the cell cultures with addition of phenobarbital. P6H was concluded as a key enzyme in regulating Rg-group ginsenoside biosynthesis in P. notoginseng cells.
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