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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Nov 15, 1991; 88(22): 9969–9973.

Molecular cloning, expression, and induction of berberine bridge enzyme, an enzyme essential to the formation of benzophenanthridine alkaloids in the response of plants to pathogenic attack.


The berberine bridge enzyme [(S)-reticuline: oxygen oxidoreductase (methylene-bridge-forming), EC] is a vesicular plant enzyme that catalyzes the formation of the berberine bridgehead carbon of (S)-scoulerine from the N-methyl carbon of (S)-reticuline in a specific, unparalleled reaction along the biosynthetic pathway that leads to benzophenanthridine alkaloids. Cytotoxic benzophenanthridine alkaloids are accumulated in certain species of Papaveraceae and Fumariaceae in response to pathogenic attack and, therefore, function as phytoalexins. The berberine bridge enzyme has been purified to homogeneity from elicited cell-suspension cultures of Eschscholtzia californica, and partial amino acid sequences have been determined. A cDNA, isolated from a Agt11 cDNA bank of elicited E. californica cell-suspension cultures, coded for an open reading frame of 538 amino acids. The first 22 amino acids constitute the putative signal peptide. The mature protein has a Mr of 57,352, excluding carbohydrate. The berberine bridge enzyme was heterologously expressed in a catalytically active form in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Southern hybridization with genomic DNA suggests that there is only one gene for the enzyme in the E. californica genome. Hybridized RNA blots from elicited E. californica cell-suspension cultures revealed a rapid and transient increase in poly(A)+ RNA levels that preceded both the increase in enzyme activity and the accumulation of benzophenanthridine alkaloids, emphasizing the integral role of the berberine bridge enzyme in the plant response to pathogens.

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