Characterization of Natural Colibactin-Nucleobase Adducts by Tandem Mass Spectrometry and Isotopic Labeling. Support for DNA Alkylation by Cyclopropane Ring Opening

Biochemistry. 2018 Nov 13;57(45):6391-6394. doi: 10.1021/acs.biochem.8b01023. Epub 2018 Oct 31.


Colibactins are genotoxic secondary metabolites whose biosynthesis is encoded in the clb gene cluster harbored by certain strains of gut commensal Escherichia coli. Using synthetic colibactin analogues, we previously provided evidence that colibactins alkylate DNA by addition of a nucleotide to an electrophilic cyclopropane intermediate. However, natural colibactin-nucleobase adducts have not been identified, to the best of our knowledge. Here we present the first identification of such adducts, derived from treatment of pUC19 DNA with clb + E. coli. Previous biosynthetic studies established cysteine and methionine as building blocks in colibactin biosynthesis; accordingly, we used cysteine (Δ cysE) and methionine (Δ metA) auxotrophic strains cultured in media supplemented with l-[U-13C]Cys or l-[U-13C]Met to facilitate the identification of nucleobases bound to colibactins. Using MS2 and MS3 analysis, in conjunction with the known oxidative instability of colibactin cyclopropane-opened products, we were able to characterize adenine adducts derived from cyclopropane ring opening. This study provides the first reported detection of nucleobase adducts derived from clb + E. coli and lends support to our earlier model suggesting DNA alkylation by addition of a nucleotide to an electrophilic cyclopropane.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Alkylation
  • Cyclopropanes / chemistry
  • Cyclopropanes / metabolism*
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism*
  • Isotope Labeling / methods*
  • Peptides / chemistry
  • Peptides / metabolism*
  • Polyketides / chemistry
  • Polyketides / metabolism*
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry / methods*


  • Cyclopropanes
  • Peptides
  • Polyketides
  • colibactin
  • cyclopropane