Substrate specificity of N-methyltransferase involved in purine alkaloids synthesis is dependent upon one amino acid residue of the enzyme
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Caffeine (1,3,7-trimethylxanthine) and theobromine (3,7-dimethylxanthine) are the major purine alkaloids in plants. To investigate the diversity of N-methyltransferases involved in purine alkaloid biosynthesis, we isolated the genes homologous for caffeine synthase from theobromine-accumulating plants. The predicted amino acid sequences of N-methyltransferases in theobromine-accumulating species in Camellia were more than 80% identical to caffeine synthase in C. sinensis. However, there was a little homology among the N-methyltransferases between Camellia and Theobroma. The recombinant enzymes derived from theobromine-accumulating plants had only 3-N-methyltransferase activity. The accumulation of purine alkaloids was, therefore, dependent on the substrate specificity of N-methyltransferase determined by one amino acid residue in the central part of the protein.