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Plant Physiol. 2005 Oct;139(2):664-73. Epub 2005 Sep 16.

Determination of catalytic key amino acids and UDP sugar donor specificity of the cyanohydrin glycosyltransferase UGT85B1 from Sorghum bicolor. Molecular modeling substantiated by site-specific mutagenesis and biochemical analyses.

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  • 1Plant Biochemistry Laboratory, Department of Plant Biology, Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, Frederiksberg C, Copenhagen, Denmark.


Plants produce a plethora of structurally diverse natural products. The final step in their biosynthesis is often a glycosylation step catalyzed by a family 1 glycosyltransferase (GT). In biosynthesis of the cyanogenic glucoside dhurrin in Sorghum bicolor, the UDP-glucosyltransferase UGT85B1 catalyzes the conversion of p-hydroxymandelonitrile into dhurrin. A structural model of UGT85B1 was built based on hydrophobic cluster analysis and the crystal structures of two bacterial GTs, GtfA and GtfB, which each showed approximately 15% overall amino acid sequence identity to UGT85B1. The model enabled predictions about amino acid residues important for catalysis and sugar donor specificity. p-Hydroxymandelonitrile and UDP-glucose (Glc) were predicted to be positioned within hydrogen-bonding distance to a glutamic acid residue in position 410 facilitating sugar transfer. The acceptor was packed within van der Waals distance to histidine H23. Serine S391 and arginine R201 form hydrogen bonds to the pyrophosphate part of UDP-Glc and hence stabilize binding of the sugar donor. Docking of UDP sugars predicted that UDP-Glc would serve as the sole donor sugar in UGT85B1. This was substantiated by biochemical analyses. The predictive power of the model was validated by site-directed mutagenesis of selected residues and using enzyme assays. The modeling approach has provided a tool to design GTs with new desired substrate specificities for use in biotechnological applications. The modeling identified a hypervariable loop (amino acid residues 156-188) that contained a hydrophobic patch. The involvement of this loop in mediating binding of UGT85B1 to cytochromes P450, CYP79A1, and CYP71E1 within a dhurrin metabolon is discussed.

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