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J Biol Chem. 1998 Jan 23;273(4):2078-89.

Sesquiterpene synthases from grand fir (Abies grandis). Comparison of constitutive and wound-induced activities, and cDNA isolation, characterization, and bacterial expression of delta-selinene synthase and gamma-humulene synthase.

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Institute of Biological Chemistry, Washington State University, Pullman 99164-6340, USA.


Grand fir (Abies grandis) has been developed as a model system for the study of oleoresin production in response to stem wounding and insect attack. The turpentine fraction of the oleoresin was shown to contain at least 38 sesquiterpenes that represent 12.5% of the turpentine, with the monoterpenes comprising the remainder. Assays of cell-free extracts from grand fir stem with farnesyl diphosphate as substrate indicated that the constitutive sesquiterpene synthases produced the same sesquiterpenes found in the oleoresin and that, in response to wounding, only two new products were synthesized, delta-cadinene and (E)-alpha-bisabolene. A similarity based cloning strategy yielded two new cDNA species from a stem cDNA library that, when expressed in Escherichia coli and the gene products subsequently assayed, yielded a remarkable number of sesquiterpene products. The encoded enzymes have been named delta-selinene synthase and gamma-humulene synthase based on the principal products formed; however, each enzyme synthesizes three major products and produces 34 and 52 total sesquiterpenes, respectively, thereby accounting for many of the sesquiterpenes of the oleoresin. The deduced amino acid sequence of the delta-selinene synthase cDNA open reading frame encodes a protein of 581 residues (at 67.6 kDa), whereas that of the gamma-humulene synthase cDNA encodes a protein of 593 residues (at 67.9 kDa). The two amino acid sequences are 83% similar and 65% identical to each other and range in similarity from 65 to 67% and in identity from 43 to 46% when compared with the known sequences of monoterpene and diterpene synthases from grand fir. Although the two sesquiterpene synthases from this gymnosperm do not very closely resemble terpene synthases from angiosperm species (52-56% similarity and 26-30% identity, there are clustered regions of significant apparent homology between the enzymes of these two plant classes. The multi-step, multi-product reactions catalyzed by the sesquiterpene synthases from grand fir are among the most complex of any terpenoid cyclase thus far described.

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