To identify lipids with roles in tuberculosis disease, we systematically compared the lipid content of virulent Mycobacterium tuberculosis with the attenuated vaccine strain Mycobacterium bovis bacillus Calmette-Guérin. Comparative lipidomics analysis identified more than 1,000 molecular differences, including a previously unknown, Mycobacterium tuberculosis-specific lipid that is composed of a diterpene unit linked to adenosine. We established the complete structure of the natural product as 1-tuberculosinyladenosine (1-TbAd) using mass spectrometry and NMR spectroscopy. A screen for 1-TbAd mutants, complementation studies, and gene transfer identified Rv3378c as necessary for 1-TbAd biosynthesis. Whereas Rv3378c was previously thought to function as a phosphatase, these studies establish its role as a tuberculosinyl transferase and suggest a revised biosynthetic pathway for the sequential action of Rv3377c-Rv3378c. In agreement with this model, recombinant Rv3378c protein produced 1-TbAd, and its crystal structure revealed a cis-prenyl transferase fold with hydrophobic residues for isoprenoid binding and a second binding pocket suitable for the nucleoside substrate. The dual-substrate pocket distinguishes Rv3378c from classical cis-prenyl transferases, providing a unique model for the prenylation of diverse metabolites. Terpene nucleosides are rare in nature, and 1-TbAd is known only in Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Thus, this intersection of nucleoside and terpene pathways likely arose late in the evolution of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex; 1-TbAd serves as an abundant chemical marker of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and the extracellular export of this amphipathic molecule likely accounts for the known virulence-promoting effects of the Rv3378c enzyme.
Keywords: TbAd; terpenyl transferase.