Protonation-Initiated Cyclization by a Class II Terpene Cyclase Assisted by Tunneling

Chembiochem. 2017 Dec 5;18(23):2301-2305. doi: 10.1002/cbic.201700443. Epub 2017 Nov 3.


Terpenes represent one of the most diversified classes of natural products with potent biological activities. The key to the myriad of polycyclic terpene skeletons with crucial functions in organisms from all kingdoms of life are terpene cyclase enzymes. These biocatalysts enable stereospecific cyclization of relatively simple, linear, prefolded polyisoprenes by highly complex, partially concerted, electrophilic cyclization cascades that remain incompletely understood. Herein, additional mechanistic light is shed on terpene biosynthesis by kinetic studies in mixed H2 O/D2 O buffers of a class II bacterial ent-copalyl diphosphate synthase. Mass spectrometry determination of the extent of deuterium incorporation in the bicyclic product, reminiscent of initial carbocation formation by protonation, resulted in a large kinetic isotope effect of up to seven. Kinetic analysis at different temperatures confirmed that the isotope effect was independent of temperature, which is consistent with hydrogen tunneling.

Keywords: biosynthesis; enzyme catalysis; isotope effects; kinetics; reaction mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alkyl and Aryl Transferases / metabolism*
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cyclization
  • Deuterium Oxide / chemistry
  • Kinetics
  • Protons
  • Streptomyces / enzymology
  • Temperature
  • Terpenes / chemistry
  • Terpenes / metabolism*


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Protons
  • Terpenes
  • Alkyl and Aryl Transferases
  • Deuterium Oxide