Eaton SA, Christianson DW. Structure-Based Engineering of a Sesquiterpene Cyclase to Generate an Alcohol Product: Conversion of epi-Isozizaene Synthase into α-Bisabolol Synthase. Biochemistry. 2024 Mar 19;63(6):797-805. doi: 10.1021/acs.biochem.3c00681. Epub 2024 Feb 29. PMID: 38420671; PMCID: PMC10961106.


The sesquiterpene cyclase epi-isozizaene synthase (EIZS) from Streptomyces coelicolor catalyzes the metal-dependent conversion of farnesyl diphosphate (FPP) into the complex tricyclic product epi-isozizaene. This remarkable transformation is governed by an active site contour that serves as a template for catalysis, directing the conformations of multiple carbocation intermediates leading to the final product. Mutagenesis of residues defining the active site contour remolds its three-dimensional shape and reprograms the cyclization cascade to generate alternative cyclization products. In some cases, mutagenesis enables alternative chemistry to quench carbocation intermediates, e.g., through hydroxylation. Here, we combine structural and biochemical data from previously characterized EIZS mutants to design and prepare F95S-F198S EIZS, which converts EIZS into an α-bisabolol synthase with moderate fidelity (65% at 18 °C, 74% at 4 °C). We report the complete biochemical characterization of this double mutant as well as the 1.47 Å resolution X-ray crystal structure of its complex with three Mg2+ ions, inorganic pyrophosphate, and the benzyltriethylammonium cation, which partially mimics a carbocation intermediate. Most notably, the two mutations together create an active site contour that stabilizes the bisabolyl carbocation intermediate and positions a water molecule for the hydroxylation reaction. Structural comparison with a naturally occurring α-bisabolol synthase reveals common active site features that direct α-bisabolol generation. In showing that EIZS can be redesigned to generate a sesquiterpene alcohol product instead of a sesquiterpene hydrocarbon product, we have expanded the potential of EIZS as a platform for the development of designer cyclases that could be utilized in synthetic biology applications.