Experiment and Simulation Reveal How Mutations in Functional Plasticity Regions Guide Plant Monoterpene Synthase Product Outcome

Nicole G.H. Leferink, Kara E. Ranaghan, Vijaykumar Karuppiah, Andrew Currin, Marc W. Van Der Kamp, Adrian J. Mulholland, Nigel S. Scrutton*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)
312 Downloads (Pure)


Monoterpenes (C10 isoprenoids) are a structurally diverse group of natural compounds that are attractive to industry as flavors and fragrances. Monoterpenes are produced from a single linear substrate, geranyl diphosphate, by a group of enzymes called the monoterpene cyclases/synthases (mTC/Ss) that catalyze high-energy cyclization reactions involving unstable carbocation intermediates. Efforts toward producing monoterpenes via biocatalysis or metabolic engineering often result in the formation of multiple products due to the nature of the highly branched reaction mechanism of mTC/Ss. Rational engineering of mTC/Ss is hampered by the lack of correlation between the active site sequence and cyclization type. We used available mutagenesis data to show that amino acids involved in product outcome are clustered and spatially conserved within the mTC/S family. Consensus sequences for three such plasticity regions were introduced in different mTC/S with increasingly complex cyclization cascades, including the model enzyme limonene synthase (LimS). In all three mTC/Ss studied, mutations in the first two regions mostly give rise to products that result from premature quenching of the linalyl or α-terpinyl cations, suggesting that both plasticity regions are involved in the formation and stabilization of cations early in the reaction cascade. A LimS variant with mutations in the second region (S454G, C457V, M458I), produced mainly more complex bicyclic products. QM/MM MD simulations reveal that the second cyclization is not due to compression of the C2-C7 distance in the α-terpinyl cation but is the result of an increased distance between C8 of the α-terpinyl cation and two putative bases (W324, H579) located on the other side of the active site, preventing early termination by deprotonation. Such insights into the effect of mutations can only be obtained using integrated experimental and computational approaches and will aid the design of altered mTC/S activities toward clean monoterpenoid products.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3780-3791
Number of pages12
JournalACS Catalysis
Issue number5
Early online date23 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2018

Structured keywords

  • BcompB
  • Bristol BioDesign Institute


  • functional plasticity
  • limonene synthase
  • monoterpene synthase
  • monoterpenoids
  • QM/MM MD simulations
  • site-directed mutagenesis
  • synthetic biology


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