• The γ-tocopherol-like family of N-methyltransferases: A taxonomically clustered gene family encoding enzymes responsible for N-methylation of monoterpene indole alkaloids

      Levac, Dylan Edward Ryan; Department of Biological Sciences (Brock University, 2013-09-19)
      The plant family Apocynaceae accumulates thousands of monoterpene indole alkaloids (MIAs) which originate, biosynthetically, from the common secoiridoid intermediate, strictosidine, that is formed from the condensation of tryptophan and secologanin molecules. MIAs demonstrate remarkable structural diversity and have pharmaceutically valuable biological activities. For example; a subunit of the potent anti-neoplastic molecules vincristine and vinblastine is the aspidosperma alkaloid, vindoline. Vindoline accumulates to trace levels under natural conditions. Research programs have determined that there is significant developmental and light regulation involved in the biosynthesis of this MIA. Furthermore, the biosynthetic pathway leading to vindoline is split among at least five independent cell types. Little is known of how intermediates are shuttled between these cell types. The late stage events in vindoline biosynthesis involve six enzymatic steps from tabersonine. The fourth biochemical step, in this pathway, is an indole N-methylation performed by a recently identified N-methyltransfearse (NMT). For almost twenty years the gene encoding this NMT had eluded discovery; however, in 2010 Liscombe et al. reported the identification of a γ-tocopherol C-methyltransferase homologue capable of indole N-methylating 2,3-dihydrotabersonine and Virus Induced Gene Silencing (VIGS) suppression of the messenger has since proven its involvement in vindoline biosynthesis. Recent large scale sequencing initiatives, performed on non-model medicinal plant transcriptomes, has permitted identification of candidate genes, presumably involved, in MIA biosynthesis never seen before in plant specialized metabolism research. Probing the transcriptome assemblies of Catharanthus roseus (L.)G.Don, Vinca minor L., Rauwolfia serpentine (L.)Benth ex Kurz, Tabernaemontana elegans, and Amsonia hubrichtii, with the nucleotide sequence of the N-methyltransferase involved in vindoline biosynthesis, revealed eight new homologous methyltransferases. This thesis describes the identification, molecular cloning, recombinant expression and biochemical characterization of two picrinine NMTs, one from V. minor and one from R. serpentina, a perivine NMT from C. roseus, and an ajmaline NMT from R. serpentina. While these TLMTs were expressed and functional in planta, they were active at relatively low levels and their N-methylated alkaloid products were not apparent our from alkaloid isolates of the plants. It appears that, for the most part, these TLMTs, participate in apparently silent biochemical pathways, awaiting the appropriate developmental and environmental cues for activity.