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Chem Biol. 2010 Apr 23;17(4):342-56. doi: 10.1016/j.chembiol.2010.02.013.

Biosynthesis of thuggacins in myxobacteria: comparative cluster analysis reveals basis for natural product structural diversity.

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Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Department of Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, Saarland University, P.O. Box 151150, 66041 Saarbrücken, Germany.


The thuggacins are macrolide antibiotics that are active against Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the causative agent of tuberculosis. Distinct variants of these structures are produced by the myxobacteria Sorangium cellulosum So ce895 and Chondromyces crocatus Cm c5, which differ in side chain structure and modification by hydroxylation. We report here a comparative analysis of the biosynthetic gene clusters in these strains, which reveals the mechanistic basis for this architectural diversity. Although the polyketide-nonribosomal peptide cores of the molecules are highly similar, the underlying biosynthetic machineries exhibit an unexpected degree of divergence. Furthermore, the S. cellulosum gene cluster contains a crotonyl-CoA reductase (CCR) homolog not present in C. crocatus, which likely participates in assembling the unusual hexyl side chain of the So ce895 thuggacins, whereas the distinct hydroxylation pattern may result from variable action of a conserved FMN-dependent monooxygenase. Indeed, inactivation of the monooxygenase gene in C. crocatus resulted in production of both mono- and di-deshydroxy thuggacin derivatives, providing direct evidence for the role of this enzyme in the pathway. Finally, integration of a Tn5-derived npt promotor upstream of the thuggacin cluster in C. crocatus led to a significant increase in thuggacin production.

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