Mechanistic insights into the cytochrome P450-mediated oxidation and rearrangement of littorine in tropane alkaloid biosynthesis

Pitak Nasomjai, Darwin W. Reed, David J. Tozer, Michael J. G. Peach, Alexandra M. Z. Slawin, Patrick S. Covello, David O'Hagan,
ChemBioChem, 10, 2382–2393, 2009.


In my second collaboration with Prof David O’Hagan of the University of St. Andrews, we were able to use relatively simple DFT calculations to provide insight into a biosynthesis reaction mechanism. This study shows the value of using theory as a complementary tool in understanding experimental observations.

For the abstract, and access to the full text, see below.


During the biosynthesis of certain tropane alkaloids, littorine (1) is rearranged to hyoscyamine (3). Recent evidence indicates that this isomerisation is a two-step process in which the first step is an oxidation/rearrangement to give hyoscyamine aldehyde (2). This step is catalysed by CYP80F1, a cytochrome P450 enzyme, which was recently identified from the plant Hyoscyamus niger; CYP80F1 also catalyses the hydroxylation of littorine at the 3′-position. The mechanisms of the reactions catalysed by CYP80F1 were probed with synthetic deutero and arylfluoro analogues of 1. Measurement of the primary kinetic isotope effects indicates that C3′ hydrogen abstraction is the rate-limiting step for the oxidation/rearrangement of natural littorine, and for the 3′-hydroxylation reaction of the unnatural Senantiomer of littorine. The character of the intermediates in the oxidation/rearrangement and hydroxylation reaction was probed with the use of arylfluorinated analogues of (R)-littorine (natural stereoisomer) and (S)-littorine (unnatural stereoisomer) as substrates for CYP80F1. The relative conversions of ortho-, meta- and para-fluorolittorine analogues were used to obtain information on the likely intermediacy of either a benzylic radical or benzylic carbocation intermediate. The data suggest that hydroxylation takes place via a benzylic carbocation intermediate, whereas the product profile arising from rearrangement is more consistent with a benzylic radical intermediate.

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