Amorpha-4,11-diene synthase: cloning and functional expression of a key enzyme in the biosynthetic pathway of the novel antimalarial drug artemisinin
The sesquiterpenoid artemisinin, isolated from the plant Artemisia annua L., and its semi-synthetic derivatives are a new and very effective group of antimalarial drugs. A branch point in the biosynthesis of this compound is the cyclisation of the ubiquitous precursor farnesyl diphosphate into the first specific precursor of artemisinin, namely amorpha-4,11-diene. Here we describe the isolation of a cDNA clone encoding amorpha-4,11-diene synthase. The deduced amino acid sequence exhibits the highest identity (50%) with a putative sesquiterpene cyclase of A. annua. When expressed in Escherichia coli, the recombinant enzyme catalyses the formation of amorpha-4,11-diene from farnesyl diphosphate. Introduction of the gene into tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum L.) resulted in the expression of an active enzyme and the accumulation of amorpha-4,11-diene ranging from 0.2 to 1.7 ng per g fresh weight.