Benzoxazinoid biosynthesis, a model for evolution of secondary metabolic pathways in plants

Phytochemistry. Oct-Nov 2009;70(15-16):1645-51. doi: 10.1016/j.phytochem.2009.05.012. Epub 2009 Jul 3.


Benzoxazinoids are secondary metabolites that are effective in defence and allelopathy. They are synthesised in two subfamilies of the Poaceae and sporadically found in single species of the dicots. The biosynthesis is fully elucidated in maize; here the genes encoding the enzymes of the pathway are in physical proximity. This "biosynthetic cluster" might facilitate coordinated gene regulation. Data from Zea mays, Triticum aestivum and Hordeum lechleri suggest that the pathway is of monophyletic origin in the Poaceae. The branchpoint from the primary metabolism (Bx1 gene) can be traced back to duplication and functionalisation of the alpha-subunit of tryptophan synthase (TSA). Modification of the intermediates by consecutive hydroxylation is catalysed by members of a cytochrome P450 enzyme subfamily (Bx2-Bx5). Glucosylation by an UDP-glucosyltransferase (UGT, Bx8, Bx9) is essential for the reduction of autotoxicity of the benzoxazinoids. In some species 2,4-dihydroxy-1,4-benzoxazin-3-one-glucoside (DIBOA-glc) is further modified by the 2-oxoglutarate-dependent dioxygenase BX6 and the O-methyltransferase BX7. In the dicots Aphelandra squarrosa, Consolida orientalis, and Lamium galeobdolon, benzoxazinoid biosynthesis is analogously organised: The branchpoint is established by a homolog of TSA, P450 enzymes catalyse hydroxylations and at least the first hydroxylation reaction is identical in dicots and Poaceae, the toxic aglucon is glucosylated by an UGT. Functionally, TSA and BX1 are indole-glycerolphosphate lyases (IGLs). Igl genes seem to be generally duplicated in angiosperms. Modelling and biochemical characterisation of IGLs reveal that the catalytic properties of the enzyme can easily be modified by mutation. Independent evolution can be assumed for the BX1 function in dicots and Poaceae.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Benzoxazines / chemistry
  • Benzoxazines / metabolism*
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / metabolism*
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Glucosyltransferases / metabolism
  • Hordeum / chemistry
  • Hordeum / genetics
  • Hordeum / metabolism
  • Ketoglutaric Acids / metabolism
  • Molecular Structure
  • Plants / chemistry
  • Plants / genetics
  • Plants / metabolism*
  • Poaceae / chemistry
  • Poaceae / genetics
  • Poaceae / metabolism
  • Triticum / genetics
  • Triticum / metabolism
  • Tryptophan Synthase / metabolism*
  • Zea mays / chemistry
  • Zea mays / genetics
  • Zea mays / metabolism


  • Benzoxazines
  • Ketoglutaric Acids
  • 2,4-dihydroxy-1,4-benzoxazin-3-one
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System
  • Glucosyltransferases
  • Tryptophan Synthase