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posted on 10.04.2018 by Max Hirte, Nicolas Meese, Michael Mertz, Monika Fuchs, Thomas B. Brück

Diterpene synthases catalyze complex, multi-step C-C coupling reactions thereby converting the universal, aliphatic precursor geranylgeranyl diphosphate into diverse olefinic macrocylces that form the basis for the structural diversity of the diterpene natural product family. Since catalytically relevant crystal structures of diterpene synthases are scarce, homology based biomolecular modeling techniques offer an alternative route to study the enzyme's reaction mechanism. However, precise identification of catalytically relevant amino acids is challenging since these models require careful preparation and refinement techniques prior to substrate docking studies. Targeted amino acid substitutions in this protein class can initiate premature quenching of the carbocation centered reaction cascade. The structural characterization of those alternative cyclization products allows for elucidation of the cyclization reaction cascade and provides a new source for complex macrocyclic synthons. In this study, new insights into structure and function of the fungal, bifunctional Aphidicolan-16-ß-ol synthase were achieved using a simplified biomolecular modeling strategy. The applied refinement methodologies could rapidly generate a reliable protein-ligand complex, which provides for an accurate in silico identification of catalytically relevant amino acids. Guided by our modeling data, ACS mutations lead to the identification of the catalytically relevant ACS amino acid network I626, T657, Y658, A786, F789, and Y923. Moreover, the ACS amino acid substitutions Y658L and D661A resulted in a premature termination of the cyclization reaction cascade en-route from syn-copalyl diphosphate to Aphidicolan-16-ß-ol. Both ACS mutants generated the diterpene macrocycle syn-copalol and a minor, non-hydroxylated labdane related diterpene, respectively. Our biomolecular modeling and mutational studies suggest that the ACS substrate cyclization occurs in a spatially restricted location of the enzyme's active site and that the geranylgeranyl diphosphate derived pyrophosphate moiety remains in the ACS active site thereby directing the cyclization process. Our cumulative data confirm that amino acids constituting the G-loop of diterpene synthases are involved in the open to the closed, catalytically active enzyme conformation. This study demonstrates that a simple and rapid biomolecular modeling procedure can predict catalytically relevant amino acids. The approach reduces computational and experimental screening efforts for diterpene synthase structure-function analyses.