Morphinan biosynthesis in opium poppy requires a P450-oxidoreductase fusion protein

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Science  17 Jul 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6245, pp. 309-312
DOI: 10.1126/science.aab1852

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Substrate channeling in morphine biosynthesis

Poppies are still the most economically viable source of the excellent painkiller morphine. Winzer et al. have now identified a key enzyme in the poppy's biosynthetic pathway for morphine. The enzyme turns out to be an unusual protein that contains both cytochrome P-450 and oxidoreductase modules. Together these modules process two subsequent steps in the biosynthetic pathway. The identification of this enzyme may enable alternate routes for morphine biosynthesis that are less dependent on poppy cultivation.

Science, this issue p. 309


Morphinan alkaloids from the opium poppy are used for pain relief. The direction of metabolites to morphinan biosynthesis requires isomerization of (S)- to (R)-reticuline. Characterization of high-reticuline poppy mutants revealed a genetic locus, designated STORR [(S)- to (R)-reticuline] that encodes both cytochrome P450 and oxidoreductase modules, the latter belonging to the aldo-keto reductase family. Metabolite analysis of mutant alleles and heterologous expression demonstrate that the P450 module is responsible for the conversion of (S)-reticuline to 1,2-dehydroreticuline, whereas the oxidoreductase module converts 1,2-dehydroreticuline to (R)-reticuline rather than functioning as a P450 redox partner. Proteomic analysis confirmed that these two modules are contained on a single polypeptide in vivo. This modular assembly implies a selection pressure favoring substrate channeling. The fusion protein STORR may enable microbial-based morphinan production.

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