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Nat Chem. 2012 May 20;4(7):539-46. doi: 10.1038/nchem.1351.

Biosynthesis of the tunicamycin antibiotics proceeds via unique exo-glycal intermediates.

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  • 1Chemistry Research Laboratory, University of Oxford, 12 Mansfield Road, Oxford OX1 3TA, UK.


The tunicamycins are archetypal nucleoside antibiotics targeting bacterial peptidoglycan biosynthesis and eukaryotic protein N-glycosylation. Understanding the biosynthesis of their unusual carbon framework may lead to variants with improved selectivity. Here, we demonstrate in vitro recapitulation of key sugar-manipulating enzymes from this pathway. TunA is found to exhibit unusual regioselectivity in the reduction of a key α,β-unsaturated ketone. The product of this reaction is shown to be the preferred substrate for TunF--an epimerase that converts the glucose derivative to a galactose. In Streptomyces strains in which another gene (tunB) is deleted, the biosynthesis is shown to stall at this exo-glycal product. These investigations confirm the combined TunA/F activity and delineate the ordering of events in the metabolic pathway. This is the first time these surprising exo-glycal intermediates have been seen in biology. They suggest that construction of the aminodialdose core of tunicamycin exploits their enol ether motif in a mode of C-C bond formation not previously observed in nature, to create an 11-carbon chain.

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