Expression of tabersonine 16-hydroxylase and 16-hydroxytabersonine-O-methyltransferase in Catharanthus roseus hairy roots

Jiayi Sun, Le Zhao, Zengyi Shao, Jacqueline Shanks, Christie A M Peebles
Biotechnology and Bioengineering 2018, 115 (3): 673-683
The monoterpene indole alkaloids vindoline and catharanthine, which are exclusively synthesized in the medicinal plant Catharanthus roseus, are the two important precursors for the production of pharmaceutically important anti-cancer medicines vinblastine and vincristine. Hairy root culture is an ideal platform for alkaloids production due to its industrial scalability, genetic and chemical stability, and availability of genetic engineering tools. However, C. roseus hairy roots do not produce vindoline due to the lack of expression of the seven-step pathway from tabersonine to vindoline [Murata & De Luca (2015) Plant Journal, 44, 581-594]. The present study describes the genetic engineering of the first two genes tabersonine 16-hydroxylase (T16H) and 16-O-methyl transferase (16OMT) in the missing vindoline pathway under the control of a glucocorticoid-inducible promoter to direct tabersonine toward vindoline biosynthesis in C. roseus hairy roots. In two transgenic hairy roots, the induced overexpression of T16H and 16OMT resulted in the accumulation of vindoline pathway metabolites 16-hydroxytabersonine and 16-methoxytabersonine. The levels of root-specific alkaloids, including lochnericine, 19-hydroxytabersonine and hörhammericine, significantly decreased in the induced hairy roots in comparison to the uninduced control lines. This suggests tabersonine was successfully channeled to the vindoline pathway away from the roots competing pathway based on the overexpression. Interestingly, another two new metabolites were detected in the induced hairy roots and proposed to be the epoxidized-16-hydroxytabersonine and lochnerinine. Thus, the introduction of vindoline pathway genes in hairy roots can cause unexpected terpenoid indole alkaloids (TIA) profile alterations. Furthermore, we observed complex transcriptional changes in TIA genes and regulators detected by RT-qPCR which highlight the tight regulation of the TIA pathway in response to T16H and 16OMT engineering in C. roseus hairy roots.

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