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J Biol Chem. 2003 Feb 21;278(8):5718-27. Epub 2002 Dec 4.

A specific bacterial aminoacylase cleaves odorant precursors secreted in the human axilla.

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  • 1Givaudan Dübendorf Ltd., Ueberlandstrasse 138, CH-8600 Duebendorf, Switzerland. andreas.natsch@givaudan.com


Human axillary odor is known to be formed upon the action of Corynebacteria sp. on odorless axilla secretions. The known axilla odor determinant 3-methyl-2-hexenoic acid was identified in hydrolyzed axilla secretions along with a chemically related compound, 3-hydroxy-3-methylhexanoic acid. The natural precursors of both these acids were purified from non-hydrolyzed axilla secretions. From liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry analysis, it appeared that the acids are covalently linked to a glutamine residue in fresh axilla secretions, and the corresponding conjugates were synthesized for confirmation. Bacterial isolates obtained from the human axilla and belonging to the Corynebacteria were found to release the acids from these odorless precursors in vitro. A Zn(2+)-dependent aminoacylase mediating this cleavage was purified from Corynebacterium striatum Ax20, and the corresponding gene agaA was cloned and heterologously expressed in Escherichia coli. The enzyme is highly specific for the glutamine residue but has a low specificity for the acyl part of the substrate. agaA is closely related to many genes coding for enzymes involved in the cleavage of N-terminal acyl and aryl substituents from amino acids. This is the first report of the structure elucidation of precursors for human body odorants and the isolation of the bacterial enzyme involved in their cleavage.

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