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Plant Physiol. 1998 Aug;117(4):1381-92.

(+)-Germacrene A biosynthesis . The committed step in the biosynthesis of bitter sesquiterpene lactones in chicory

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  • 1Department of Organic Chemistry, Wageningen Agricultural University, Dreijenplein 8, 6703 HB Wageningen, The Netherlands (J.-W.d.K., M.C. R.F., A.d.G.).


The leaves and especially the roots of chicory (Cichorium intybus L. ) contain high concentrations of bitter sesquiterpene lactones such as the guianolides lactupicrin, lactucin, and 8-deoxylactucin. Eudesmanolides and germacranolides are present in smaller amounts. Their postulated biosynthesis through the mevalonate-farnesyl diphosphate-germacradiene pathway has now been confirmed by the isolation of a (+)-germacrene A synthase from chicory roots. This sesquiterpene cyclase was purified 200-fold using a combination of anion-exchange and dye-ligand chromatography. It has a Km value of 6. 6 &mgr;M, an estimated molecular mass of 54 kD, and a (broad) pH optimum around 6.7. Germacrene A, the enzymatic product, proved to be much more stable than reported in literature. Its heat-induced Cope rearrangement into (-)-beta-elemene was utilized to determine its absolute configuration on an enantioselective gas chromatography column. To our knowledge, until now in sesquiterpene biosynthesis, germacrene A has only been reported as an (postulated) enzyme-bound intermediate, which, instead of being released, is subjected to additional cyclization(s) by the same enzyme that generated it from farnesyl diphosphate. However, in chicory germacrene A is released from the sesquiterpene cyclase. Apparently, subsequent oxidations and/or glucosylation of the germacrane skeleton, together with a germacrene cyclase, determine whether guaiane- or eudesmane-type sesquiterpene lactones are produced.

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