Helicoverpa zea CYP6B8 and CYP321A1: Different molecular solutions to the problem of metabolizing plant toxins and insecticides

Sanjeewa G. Rupasinghe, Zhimou Wen, Ting Lan Chiu, Mary A. Schuler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Under continual exposure to naturally occurring plant toxins and synthetic insecticides, insects have evolved cytochrome P450 monooxygenases (P450s) capable of metabolizing a wide range of structurally different compounds. Two such P450s, CYP6B8 and CYP321A1, expressed in Helicoverpa zea (a lepidopteran) in response to plant allelochemicals and plant signaling molecules metabolize these compounds with varying efficiencies. While sequence alignments of these proteins indicate highly divergent substrate recognition sites (SRSs), homology models developed for them indicate that the two active site cavities have essentially the same volume with distinct shapes dictated by side-chain differences in SRS1 and SRS5. CYP6B8 has a narrower active site cavity extending from substrate access channel pw2a with a very narrow access to the ferryl oxygen atom. This predicted shape suggests that bulkier molecules bind further from the ferryl oxygen at positions that are not as effectively metabolized. In contrast, CYP321A1 is predicted to have a more spacious cavity allowing larger molecules to access the heme-bound oxygen. The metabolic profiles for several plant toxins (xanthotoxin, angelicin) and insecticides (cypermethrin, aldrin and diazinon) correlate well with these predictive models. The absence of Thr in the I helix of CYP321A1 and hydroxyl groups on many of its substrates suggests that this insect P450 mediates oxygen activation by a mechanism different from that employed by CYP107A1 and CYP158A1, which are two bacterial P450s also lacking Thr in their I helix, and most other P450s that contain Thr in their I helix.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)615-624
Number of pages10
JournalProtein Engineering, Design and Selection
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2007


  • Cytochrome P450 monooxygenases (P450s)
  • Detoxification of plant toxins and insecticides
  • Molecular modeling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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