In Vitro Biosynthesis and Substrate Tolerance of the Plantazolicin Family of Natural Products

ACS Chem Biol. 2016 Aug 19;11(8):2232-43. doi: 10.1021/acschembio.6b00369. Epub 2016 Jun 16.


Plantazolicin (PZN) is a ribosomally synthesized and post-translationally modified peptide (RiPP) natural product that exhibits extraordinarily narrow-spectrum antibacterial activity toward the causative agent of anthrax, Bacillus anthracis. During PZN biosynthesis, a cyclodehydratase catalyzes cyclization of cysteine, serine, and threonine residues in the PZN precursor peptide (BamA) to azolines. Subsequently, a dehydrogenase oxidizes most of these azolines to thiazoles and (methyl)oxazoles. The final biosynthetic steps consist of leader peptide removal and dimethylation of the nascent N-terminus. Using a heterologously expressed and purified heterocycle synthetase, the BamA peptide was processed in vitro concordant with the pattern of post-translational modification found in the naturally occurring compound. Using a suite of BamA-derived peptides, including amino acid substitutions as well as contracted and expanded substrate variants, the substrate tolerance of the heterocycle synthetase was elucidated in vitro, and the residues crucial for leader peptide binding were identified. Despite increased promiscuity compared to what was previously observed during heterologous production in E. coli, the synthetase retained exquisite selectivity in cyclization of unnatural peptides only at positions which correspond to those cyclized in the natural product. A cleavage site was subsequently introduced to facilitate leader peptide removal, yielding mature PZN variants after enzymatic or chemical dimethylation. In addition, we report the isolation and characterization of two novel PZN-like natural products that were predicted from genome sequences but whose production had not yet been observed.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Ligases / metabolism
  • Oligopeptides / biosynthesis*
  • Oligopeptides / chemistry
  • Oligopeptides / metabolism*
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Substrate Specificity


  • Oligopeptides
  • plantazolicin A
  • plantazolicin B
  • Ligases