Enzymatic (13)C labeling and multidimensional NMR analysis of miltiradiene synthesized by bifunctional diterpene cyclase in Selaginella moellendorffii

J Biol Chem. 2011 Dec 16;286(50):42840-7. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M111.302703. Epub 2011 Oct 25.


Diterpenes show diverse chemical structures and various physiological roles. The diversity of diterpene is primarily established by diterpene cyclases that catalyze a cyclization reaction to form the carbon skeleton of cyclic diterpene. Diterpene cyclases are divided into two types, monofunctional and bifunctional cyclases. Bifunctional diterpene cyclases (BDTCs) are involved in hormone and defense compound biosyntheses in bryophytes and gymnosperms, respectively. The BDTCs catalyze the successive two-step type-B (protonation-initiated cyclization) and type-A (ionization-initiated cyclization) reactions of geranylgeranyl diphosphate (GGDP). We found that the genome of a lycophyte, Selaginella moellendorffii, contains six BDTC genes with the majority being uncharacterized. The cDNA from S. moellendorffii encoding a BDTC-like enzyme, miltiradiene synthase (SmMDS), was cloned. The recombinant SmMDS converted GGDP to a diterpene hydrocarbon product with a molecular mass of 272 Da. Mutation in the type-B active motif of SmMDS abolished the cyclase activity, whereas (+)-copalyl diphosphate, the reaction intermediate from the conversion of GGDP to the hydrocarbon product, rescued the cyclase activity of the mutant to form a diterpene hydrocarbon. Another mutant lacking type-A activity accumulated copalyl diphosphate as the reaction intermediate. When the diterpene hydrocarbon was enzymatically synthesized from [U-(13)C(6)]mevalonate, all carbons were labeled with (13)C stable isotope (>99%). The fully (13)C-labeled product was subjected to (13)C-(13)C COSY NMR spectroscopic analyses. The direct carbon-carbon connectivities observed in the multidimensional NMR spectra demonstrated that the hydrocarbon product by SmMDS is miltiradiene, a putative biosynthetic precursor of tanshinone identified from the Chinese medicinal herb Salvia miltiorrhiza. Hence, SmMDS functions as a bifunctional miltiradiene synthase in S. moellendorffii. In this study, we demonstrate that one-dimensional and multidimensional (13)C NMR analyses of completely (13)C-labeled compound are powerful methods for biosynthetic studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carbon Isotopes / chemistry
  • Carbon Isotopes / metabolism*
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy / methods*
  • Plant Proteins / genetics
  • Plant Proteins / metabolism*
  • Polyisoprenyl Phosphates / metabolism
  • Selaginellaceae / genetics
  • Selaginellaceae / metabolism*
  • Terpenes / chemistry*
  • Terpenes / metabolism*


  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Plant Proteins
  • Polyisoprenyl Phosphates
  • Terpenes
  • geranylgeranyl pyrophosphate