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Plant Cell. 2011 Nov;23(11):4112-23. doi: 10.1105/tpc.110.082685. Epub 2011 Nov 29.

Triterpene functional genomics in licorice for identification of CYP72A154 involved in the biosynthesis of glycyrrhizin.

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Department of Biotechnology, Graduate School of Engineering, Osaka University, Suita, Osaka 565-0871, Japan.


Glycyrrhizin, a triterpenoid saponin derived from the underground parts of Glycyrrhiza plants (licorice), has several pharmacological activities and is also used worldwide as a natural sweetener. The biosynthesis of glycyrrhizin involves the initial cyclization of 2,3-oxidosqualene to the triterpene skeleton β-amyrin, followed by a series of oxidative reactions at positions C-11 and C-30, and glycosyl transfers to the C-3 hydroxyl group. We previously reported the identification of a cytochrome P450 monooxygenase (P450) gene encoding β-amyrin 11-oxidase (CYP88D6) as the initial P450 gene in glycyrrhizin biosynthesis. In this study, a second relevant P450 (CYP72A154) was identified and shown to be responsible for C-30 oxidation in the glycyrrhizin pathway. CYP72A154 expressed in an engineered yeast strain that endogenously produces 11-oxo-β-amyrin (a possible biosynthetic intermediate between β-amyrin and glycyrrhizin) catalyzed three sequential oxidation steps at C-30 of 11-oxo-β-amyrin supplied in situ to produce glycyrrhetinic acid, a glycyrrhizin aglycone. Furthermore, CYP72A63 of Medicago truncatula, which has high sequence similarity to CYP72A154, was able to catalyze C-30 oxidation of β-amyrin. These results reveal a function of CYP72A subfamily proteins as triterpene-oxidizing enzymes and provide a genetic tool for engineering the production of glycyrrhizin.

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