Background: Several plant diterpenes have important biological properties. Among them, forskolin is a complex labdane-type diterpene whose biological activity stems from its ability to activate adenylyl cyclase and to elevate intracellular cAMP levels. As such, it is used in the control of blood pressure, in the protection from congestive heart failure, and in weight-loss supplements. Chemical synthesis of forskolin is challenging, and production of forskolin in engineered microbes could provide a sustainable source. To this end, we set out to establish a platform for the production of forskolin and related epoxy-labdanes in yeast.
Results: Since the forskolin biosynthetic pathway has only been partially elucidated, and enzymes involved in terpene biosynthesis frequently exhibit relaxed substrate specificity, we explored the possibility of reconstructing missing steps of this pathway employing surrogate enzymes. Using CYP76AH24, a Salvia pomifera cytochrome P450 responsible for the oxidation of C-12 and C-11 of the abietane skeleton en route to carnosic acid, we were able to produce the forskolin precursor 11β-hydroxy-manoyl oxide in yeast. To improve 11β-hydroxy-manoyl oxide production, we undertook a chassis engineering effort involving the combination of three heterozygous yeast gene deletions (mct1/MCT1, whi2/WHI2, gdh1/GDH1) and obtained a 9.5-fold increase in 11β-hydroxy-manoyl oxide titers, reaching 21.2 mg L(-1).
Conclusions: In this study, we identify a surrogate enzyme for the specific and efficient hydroxylation of manoyl oxide at position C-11β and establish a platform that will facilitate the synthesis of a broad range of tricyclic (8,13)-epoxy-labdanes in yeast. This platform forms a basis for the heterologous production of forskolin and will facilitate the elucidation of subsequent steps of forskolin biosynthesis. In addition, this study highlights the usefulness of using surrogate enzymes for the production of intermediates of complex biosynthetic pathways. The combination of heterozygous deletions and the improved yeast strain reported here will provide a useful tool for the production of numerous other isoprenoids.