Background: Iterative type II polyketide synthases (PKSs) produce polyketide chains of variable but defined length from a specific starter unit and a number of extender units. They also specify the initial regiospecific folding and cyclization pattern of nascent polyketides either through the action of a cyclase (CYC) subunit or through the combined action of site-specific ketoreductase (KR) and CYC subunits. Additional CYCs and other modifications may be necessary to produce linear aromatic polyketides. The principles of the assembly of the linear aromatic polyketides, several of which are medically important, are well understood, but it is not clear whether the assembly of the angular aromatic (angucyclic) polyketides follows the same rules.
Results: We performed an in vivo evaluation of the subunits of the PKS responsible for the production of the angucyclic polyketide jadomycin (jad), in comparison with their counterparts from the daunorubicin (dps) and tetracenomycin (tcm) PKSs which produce linear aromatic polyketides. No matter which minimal PKS was used to produce the initial polyketide chain, the JadD and DpsF CYCs produced the same two polyketides, in the same ratio; neither product was angularly fused. The set of jadABCED PKS plus putative jadl CYC genes behaved similarly. Furthermore, no angular polyketides were isolated when the entire set of jad PKS enzymes and Jadl or the jad minimal PKS, Jadl and the TcmN CYC were present. The DpsE KR was able to reduce decaketides but not octaketides; in contrast, the KRs from the jad PKS (JadE) or the actinorhodin PKS (ActIII) could reduce octaketide chains, giving three distinct products.
Conclusions: It appears that the biosynthesis of angucyclic polyketides cannot be simply accomplished by expressing the known PKS subunits from artificial gene cassettes under the control of a non-native promoter. The characteristic structure of the angucycline ring system may arise from a kinked precursor during later cyclization reactions involving additional, but so far unknown, components of the extended decaketide PKS. Our results also suggest that some KRs have a minimal chain length requirement and that CYC enzymes may act aberrantly as first-ring aromatases that are unable to perform all of the sequential cyclization steps. Both of these characteristics may limit the widespread application of CYC or KR enzymes in the synthesis of novel polyketides.