The molecular architecture of major enzymes from ajmaline biosynthetic pathway

Joachim Stöckigt, Santosh Panjikar, Martin Ruppert, Leif Barleben, Xueyan Ma, Elke Loris, Marco Hill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


The biosynthetic pathway leading to the monoterpenoid indole alkaloid ajmaline in Rauvolfia serpentiin serpentina is one of the most studied in the field of natural product biosynthesis. Ajmaline has a complex structure which is based on a six-membered ring system harbouring nine chiral carbon atoms. There are about fifteen enzymes involved, including some involving the side reactions of the ajmaline biosynthetic pathway. All enzymes exhibit pronounced substrate specificity. In the recent years isolation and sequencing of their cDNAs has allowed a detailed sequence analysis and comparison with functionally related and occasionally un-related enzymes. Site-directed mutations of several of the ajmaline-synthesizing enzymes have been performed and their catalytic residues have been identified. Success with over-expression of the enzymes was an important step for their crystallization and structural analysis by X-ray crystallography. Crystals with sufficient resolution were obtained from the major enzymes of the pathway. Strictosidine synthase has a 3D-structure with a six-bladed β-propeller fold the first time such a fold found in the plant kingdom. Its ligand complexes with tryptamine and secologanin, as well as structure-based sequence alignment, indicate a possible evolutionary relationship to several primary sequence-unrelated structures with this fold. The structure of strictosidine glucosidase was determined and its structure has as a (β/α)8 barrel fold. Vinorine synthase provides the first 3D structure of a member of BAHD enzyme super-family. Raucaffricine glucosidase involved in a side-route of ajmaline biosynthesis has been crystallized. The ajmaline biosynthetic pathway is an outstanding example where many enzymes 3D-structure have been known and where there is a real potential for protein engineering to yield new alkaloid.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-34
Number of pages20
JournalPhytochemistry Reviews
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • 3D-structures
  • Rauvolfia alkaloids
  • Strictosidine glucosidase
  • Strictosidine synthase
  • Vinorine synthase
  • X-ray crystallography

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