, Volume 205, Issue 3, pp 414-419

Effects of over-expression of strictosidine synthase and tryptophan decarboxylase on alkaloid production by cell cultures of Catharanthus roseus

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Cells of Catharanthus roseus (L.) G. Don were genetically engineered to over-express the enzymes strictosidine synthase (STR; EC and tryptophan decarboxylase (TDC; EC, which catalyze key steps in the biosynthesis of terpenoid indole alkaloids (TIAs). The cultures established after Agrobacterium-mediated transformation showed wide phenotypic diversity, reflecting the complexity of the biosynthetic pathway. Cultures transgenic for Str consistently showed tenfold higher STR activity than wild-type cultures, which favored biosynthetic activity through the pathway. Two such lines accumulated over 200 mg · L−1 of the glucoalkaloid strictosidine and/or strictosidine-derived TIAs, including ajmalicine, catharanthine, serpentine, and tabersonine, while maintaining wild-type levels of TDC activity. Alkaloid accumulation by highly productive transgenic lines showed considerable instability and was strongly influenced by culture conditions, such as the hormonal composition of the medium and the availability of precursors. High transgene-encoded TDC activity was not only unnecessary for increased productivity, but also detrimental to the normal growth of the cultures. In contrast, high STR activity was tolerated by the cultures and appeared to be necessary, albeit not sufficient, to sustain high rates of alkaloid biosynthesis. We conclude that constitutive over-expression of Str is highly desirable for increased TIA production. However, given its complexity, limited intervention in the TIA pathway will yield positive results only in the presence of a favorable epigenetic environment.

Received: 12 June 1997 / Accepted: 24 October 1997