Engineering unnatural variants of plantazolicin through codon reprogramming

Caitlin D. Deane, Joel O. Melby, Katie J. Molohon, Aziz R. Susarrey, Douglas A. Mitchell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Plantazolicin (PZN) is a polyheterocyclic natural product derived from a ribosomal peptide that harbors remarkable antibiotic selectivity for the causative agent of anthrax, Bacillus anthracis. To simultaneously establish the structure-activity relationship of PZN and the substrate tolerance of the biosynthetic pathway, an Escherichia coli expression strain was engineered to heterologously produce PZN analogues. Variant PZN precursor genes were produced by site-directed mutagenesis and later screened by mass spectrometry to assess post-translational modification and export by E. coli. From a screen of 72 precursor peptides, 29 PZN variants were detected. This analogue collection provided insight into the selectivity of the post-translational modifying enzymes and established the boundaries of the natural biosynthetic pathway. Unlike other studied thiazole/oxazole-modified microcins, the biosynthetic machinery appeared to be finely tuned toward the production of PZN, such that the cognate enzymes did not process even other naturally occurring sequences from similar biosynthetic clusters. The modifying enzymes were exquisitely selective, installing heterocycles only at predefined positions within the precursor peptides while leaving neighboring residues unmodified. Nearly all substitutions at positions normally harboring heterocycles prevented maturation of a PZN variant, though some exceptions were successfully produced lacking a heterocycle at the penultimate residue. No variants containing additional heterocycles were detected, although several peptide sequences yielded multiple PZN variants as a result of varying oxidation states of select residues. Eleven PZN variants were produced in sufficient quantity to facilitate purification and assessment of their antibacterial activity, providing insight into the structure-activity relationship of PZN.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1998-2008
Number of pages11
JournalACS chemical biology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 20 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Medicine


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