- Research article
- Open Access
Biosynthesis of methylated resveratrol analogs through the construction of an artificial biosynthetic pathway in E. coli
- Sun-Young Kang†1, 2,
- Jae Kyoung Lee†1, 2,
- Oksik Choi1,
- Cha Young Kim3,
- Jae-Hyuk Jang1,
- Bang Yeon Hwang2 and
- Young-Soo Hong1Email author
© Kang et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2014
- Received: 15 May 2014
- Accepted: 10 July 2014
- Published: 17 July 2014
Methylated resveratrol analogs show similar biological activities that are comparable with those of the resveratrol. However, the methylated resveratrol analogs exhibit better bioavailability as they are more easily transported into the cell and more resistant to degradation. Although these compounds are widely used in human health care and in industrial materials, at present they are mainly obtained by extraction from raw plant sources. Accordingly their production can suffer from a variety of economic problems, including low levels of productivity and/or heterogeneous quality. On this backdrop, large-scale production of plant metabolites via microbial approaches is a promising alternative to chemical synthesis and extraction from plant sources.
An Escherichia coli system containing an artificial biosynthetic pathway that produces methylated resveratrol analogues, such as pinostilbene (3,4’-dihydroxy-5-methoxystilbene), 3,5-dihydroxy-4’-methoxystilbene, 3,4’-dimethoxy-5-hydroxystilbene, and 3,5,4’-trimethoxystilbene, from simple carbon sources is developed. These artificial biosynthetic pathways contain a series of codon-optimized O-methyltransferase genes from sorghum in addition to the resveratrol biosynthetic genes. The E. coli cells that harbor pET-opTLO1S or pET-opTLO3S produce the one-methyl resveratrol analogues of 3,5-dihydroxy-4’-methoxystilbene and pinostilbene, respectively. Furthermore, the E. coli cells that harbor pET-opTLO13S produce 3,5-dihydroxy-4’-methoxystilbene, bis-methyl resveratrol (3,4’-dimethoxy-5-hydroxystilbene), and tri-methyl resveratrol (3,5,4’-trimethoxystilbene).
Our strategy demonstrates the first harness microorganisms for de novo synthesis of methylated resveratrol analogs used a single vector system joined with resveratrol biosynthetic genes and sorghum two resveratrol O-methyltransferase genes. Thus, this is also the first report on the production of the methylated resveratrol compounds bis-methyl and tri-methyl resveratrol (3,4’-dimethoxy-5-hydroxystilbene and 3,5,4’-trimethoxystilbene) in the E. coli culture. Thus, the production of the methylated resveratrol compounds was performed on the simple E. coli medium without precursor feeding in the culture.
- Coli Cell
- Tyrosine Ammonia Lyase
- Precursor Feeding
Resveratrol (3,5,4’-trihydroxystilbene), which is found in red wine and grapes as well as in other plants, has been the subject of intensive studies that focus on its possible role in preventing cardiovascular heart diseases and cancer . Resveratrol and its analogs have important functions as antimicrobial and antioxidant compounds in plant defense responses to environmental stresses, such as UV irradiation and fungal infection. However, they also exhibit diverse beneficial properties in humans, including anti-inflammatory effects, anti-tumor activities, and anti-aging effects . In particular, over the past decade, resveratrol has been used as a dietary supplement that has been demonstrated to possess a broad spectrum of pharmacological properties [3, 4]. However, Walle et al. reported the high absorption but rapid metabolism of resveratrol when it was administered orally to humans . Several reports have demonstrated that the methylation of resveratrol results in the enhancement of its bioavailability and bioactivity [6, 7]. For example, pterostilbene is a 3,5 bis-methylated resveratrol that is present in blueberries and it has been investigated extensively . The substitution of the hydroxy with the methoxy groups increases the lipophilicity of pterostilbene over the resveratrol, which results in high bioavailability. These differences in the pharmacokinetics might explain the higher biological activity of pterostilbene over its parental compound resveratrol . Furthermore, 3,5,4’-trimethoxystilbene has emerged as the most potent proapoptotic analog of resveratrol . In addition, 3,5,4’-trimethoxystilbene and pinostilbene (3,4’-dihydroxy-5-methoxystilbene) were reported to be up to 100-fold more cytotoxic than resveratrol in cancer cell lines . Consequently, methylated resveratrol analogs, which can possess greater oral bioavailability due to their decreased metabolism and increased absorption, have garnered increasing attention as alternative chemopreventive agents. Therefore, methylated resveratrols have become an attractive target for bioengineering, but few attempts to characterize the methylation enzyme of resveratrol have been reported thus far [12–17].
In this study, we describe the production of the methylated resveratrol analogs of pinostilbene, 3,5-dihydroxy-4’-methoxystilbene, 3,4’-dimethoxy-5-hydroxystilbene, and 3,5,4’-trimethoxystilbene using the recombinant E. coli that harbors an artificial biosynthetic pathway. These artificial biosynthetic pathways contain a series of codon-optimized sbOMT1 or sbOMT3 O-methyltransferase genes, and both O-methyltransferase genes from sorghum in addition to the resveratrol biosynthetic gene cluster. The recombinant E. coli produces methylated resveratrol analogs beginning with the simple sugar fermentation, but not in the bioconversion of the intermediates.
Characterization of the resveratrol O-methyltransferase via a bioconversion experiment in recombinant E. coli
Previous reports have noted that the two resveratrol O-methyltransferase genes (sbOMT1 and sbOMT3) from Sorghum bicolor are capable of using resveratrol as a substrate that yields methylated analogs of resveratrol [12, 13]. It was claimed that the sbOMT3 O-methyltransferase catalyzes the A-ring specific 3,5-bis-O-methylation of resveratrol, which in turn yields pterostilbene (3,5-dimethoxy-4’-hydroxystilbene) in the co-expression system of sbOMT3 with a stilbene synthase from peanuts (AhSTS3) . In addition, sbOMT1, which had previously been identified as a potential eugenol O-methyltransferase, predominantly catalyzes the resveratrol B-ring (4’-O-methylation), which yields 3,5-dihydroxy-4’-methoxystilbene [12, 13].
The recombinant E. coli cells that harbored the pET22-sbCOM1 plasmid produced a 12.2 min retention time peak, which is a slightly later retention time than the pinostilbene (3,4’-dihydroxy-5-methoxystilbene) as seen in Figure 3A(d). The major peak in Figure 3A(d) exhibited parent mass ion peaks at m/z 243.05 [M + H]+, which corresponded to one methylation of resveratrol (an addition of 14 Da; Figure 3B(a)). It was expected that this methylated compound could have a methoxy group located in the 4’ position in the B-ring (Figure 1). In the pET22-sbCOM3 clone, a major peak was present at the same retention time (11.6 min) as that in the HPLC analysis and at the same mass ion peaks at m/z 243.08 [M + H]+ with authentic pinostilbene, which is one methylation of resveratrol (Figure 3B(b)). However, this recombinant produced a very low level minor peak of 15.9 min in the HPLC, which was the same retention time as the pterostilbene (3,5-dimethoxy-4’-hydroxystilbene; Figure 3A(e)). This minor peak was also accepted based on the mass spectra as m/z 257.13 [M + H]+, which corresponded to two methylations of resveratrol (an addition of 28 Da; Figure 3B(c)). However, the peak intensity was not sufficient to allow a detailed structural characterization. These results exhibit a controversial conclusion that contrasts with the results reported previously by Rimando et al., who demonstrated that the sbOMT3 produced pterostilbene as a major product . However, our results agreed with Jeong et al.’s reported results with the in vitro and bioconversion activity of the sbOMT3 .
Construction of artificial biosynthetic pathways for the production of methylated resveratrol analogs in E. coli
We have previously produced resveratrol in E. coli harboring an artificial biosynthetic gene cluster in which the TAL from Saccharothrix espanaensis, CCL from Streptomyces coelicolor, and STS from the peanut plant Arachis hypogaea were contained . In order to produce the methylated resveratrol analogs in E. coli using a simple sugar medium, a series of plasmids containing the artificial biosynthetic pathway were constructed (Figure 2). The artificial resveratrol and methylated resveratrol biosynthetic plasmids were constructed using the previously described cloning methods , and each plasmid contained genes with their own T7 promoter, ribosome-binding site (RBS), and terminator sequence as in the parental vectors. In this study, a new resveratrol-producing construct of pET-opTLS, which contained codon-optimized tal and sts genes, and cloned ccl gene from S. coelicolor, was constructed using previously reported cloning method of the parental vector pET-TLkS . The E. coli cells with the pET-opTLS clone exhibited a higher production yield of resveratrol (5.2 mg/L) in the culture system with a modified M9 medium compared with the original pET-TLkS clone (1.4 mg/L) . The cause of this improvement remains unknown, but it is possible that these protein expression ratios may have better optimized the resveratrol production than the original combination.
In order to construct an expression vector that contains the additional O-methyltransferase gene(s) that are under the control of the T7 promoter, the DNA fragment containing the promoter, O-methyltransferase coding region, and terminator using pET22-sbCOM1 and pET22-sbCOM3 plasmids as templates were amplified. Then, the amplified fragments were inserted into pET-opTLS, which resulted in pET-opTLO1S and pET-opTLO3S, respectively. Similarly, in order to construct the plasmid containing the two O-methyltransferases biosynthetic pathways, the O-methyltransferase fragment containing the sbOMT3 coding region was inserted into the pET-opTLO1S, which resulted in pET-opTLO13S. This is useful assembly method for the reconstruction of multi-enzyme biosynthetic pathways such as stilbenes and flavones biosynthesis.
Production and purification of methylated resveratrol analogs in E. colivia artificial biosynthetic pathways
In order to obtain NMR-accessible amounts from the present culture conditions, it was scaled up to 4 liters of E. coli fermentation that harbored pET-opTLO13S. Three methylated resveratrol analogs were purified from the large culture broth. The mass spectra of the purified methylated resveratrol analogs (3,5-dihydroxy-4’-methoxystilbene, 3,4’-dimethoxy-5-hydroxystilbene, and 3,5,4’-trimethoxystilbene) are characterized with mass peaks at m/z 243, 257, and 271 [M + H]+, respectively. The 1H NMR spectra of the purified compounds were similar to those of the one, bi, and tri-methyl analogs that were isolated, respectively (Additional file 2: Table S1). The structures of the purified resveratrol analogs were identified through spectral data interpretation and comparison with the values reported in the literature . The coexistence of sbOMT1 and sbOMT3 produced a relatively large amount of 3,5-dihydroxy-4’-methoxystilbene from the early stage of the culture; however, the pinostilbene was not significantly detected (Figure 6). These results indicate that sbOMT1 has superior methylation activity against resveratrol compared with that of sbOMT3. However, at the late stage of the culture, the production yield of 3,4’-dimethoxy-5-hydroxystilbene increased; it finally produced tri-methyl resveratrol (3,5,4’-trimethoxystilbene) (Figure 6B). Therefore, 3,4’-dimethoxy-5-hydroxystilbene is a major bis-methylated intermediate in the biosynthesis of 3,5,4’-trimethoxystilbene in this E. coli system. These results indicate that sbOMT3 has methylation activity in the A ring hydroxyl group against resveratrol as well as 3,5-dihydroxy-4’-methoxystilbene. Furthermore, the presence of 3,5,4’-trimethoxystilbene without the detection of pterostilbene indicates that the C-5 methylation is expected to be the final modification step in the coexistence of the sbOMT1 and sbOMT3 enzymes.
Although the production yield of these compounds is too low for commercial purposes, the results presented here were obtained using the wild type E. coil. This is the first report of an artificial biosynthetic pathway to obtain methylated resveratrol compounds used a single vector system joined with resveratrol biosynthetic genes and two resveratrol O-methyltransferase genes. The recombinant E. coli produces methylated resveratrol analogs beginning with simple fermentation rather than with bioconversion of intermediates. Recently, large-scale production of plant metabolites via metabolic engineered microbes has provided a promising alternative to chemical synthesis and extraction from raw plant sources [28, 29]. Further application with a metabolically optimized host strain, i.e. a tyrosine and/or malonyl CoA high producer [23, 24], may be very useful for obtaining industrial scale production yields.
We developed new artificial biosynthetic pathway for methylated resveratrol compounds using a single vector system joined with resveratrol biosynthetic genes and sorghum two resveratrol O-methyltransferase genes. An E. coli system containing an artificial biosynthetic pathway produced methylated resveratrol analogs of pinostilbene, 3,5-dihydroxy-4’-methoxystilbene, 3,4’-dimethoxy-5-hydroxystilbene, and 3,5,4’-trimethoxystilbene from a simple sugar medium without any precursor feeding. The E. coli cells that harbored the pET-opTLO1S plasmid (combined with O-methyltransferase (sbOMT1) and a resveratrol biosynthetic pathway) produced the one-methyl resveratrol analog, 3,5-dihydroxy-4’-methoxystilbene. The E. coli cells that harbored the pET-opTLO3S plasmid (combined with O-methyltransferase (sbOMT3) and a resveratrol biosynthetic pathway) produced the other one-methyl resveratrol analog, pinostilbene. Furthermore, the E. coli cells that harbored the pET-opTLO13S (combined with two sbOMT1 and sbOMT3 O-methyltransferases and a resveratrol biosynthetic pathway) produced 3,5-dihydroxy-4’-methoxystilbene, a bis-methyl resveratrol (3,4’-dimethoxy-5-hydroxystilbene), and a tri-methyl resveratrol (3,5,4’-trimethoxystilbene) (Figure 1). The coexistence of sbOMT1 and sbOMT3 produced 3,5-dihydroxy-4’-methoxystilbene as a major product in the early stage of the culture; however, the pinostilbene was not significantly detected (Figure 6). Katsuyama et al. reported the production of the pinostilbene and pterostilbene from E. coli culture using the fungal O-methyltransferase (OsPMT) gene and the tyrosine feeding medium . Our described strategy exhibits the first harnessing of microorganisms for the de novo synthesis of methylated resveratrol analogs using a one-vector system from a simple sugar without precursor feeding in the culture medium. Thus, this is also the first report on the production of the methylated resveratrol compounds bis-methyl and tri-methyl resveratrol (3,4’-dimethoxy-5-hydroxystilbene and 3,5,4’-trimethoxystilbene) in the E. coli culture. These results provide an opportunity to create an economic incentive to develop strains capable of converting cheaper feedstock into high value compounds.
Bacterial strains, plasmids, and chemicals
E. coli DH5α and E. coli C41 (DE3)  were used in the general DNA manipulation and expression of biosynthetic genes, respectively. T-blunt vector (Solgent, Korea) was used in the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) cloning. pET-22b(+) and pET-28a(+) were purchased from Novagen (USA). 4-coumaric acid, resveratrol, pterostilbene, and 3,5,4’-trimethoxystilbene were purchased from Sigma-Aldrich (USA). Pinostilbene was purchased from Tokyo Chemical Industry, Co (Japan). IPTG was purchased from A.G. Scientific, Inc (USA). NMR solvent was purchased from Cambridge Isotope Laboratories, Inc. (USA). Hypergrade solvent for LC-MS was purchased from Merck KGaA (Germany).
The restriction enzymes (NEB, Takara), Ex taq polymerase (Takara) pfu taq polymerase (Solgent), and an AccuPower Ligation kit (Bioneer, Korea) were used according to the instructions provided by the manufacturers. The codon optimization and synthesis of tal gene from Saccharothrix espanaensis (KCTC9392) and the sbOMT1 & sbOMT3 genes [GenBank:ABP01563.1, ABP01564.1] from Sorghum bicolor were performed using the GeneGPS™ program (DNA2.0). The sts gene from Arachis hypogaea [GenBank: AB027606] was codon-optimized and synthesized using Codon Devices (USA). The ccl gene from Streptomyces coelicolor A3(2) [GenBank: NP628552] was cloned and characterized in the laboratory. After the DNA manipulation, the absence of undesired alterations during the PCR was verified using nucleotide sequencing on an automated nucleotide sequencer.
Construction of O-methyltransferase expression vectors and assembly of the artificial biosynthetic pathways
Plasmids and strains used in this study
Plasmid or strain
f1 ori, T7 promoter, AmpR
f1 ori, T7 promoter, KanR
pET-28a(+) carrying codon-optimized Saccharothrix espanaensis TAL
Kang et al.
pET-28a(+) carrying CCL from Streptomyces coelicolor
Choi et al.
pET-28a(+) carrying codon-optimized Arachis hypogaea STS
Choi et al.
pET-22b(+) carrying codon-optimized Sorghum bicolor sbOMT1
pET-22b(+) carrying codon-optimized Sorghum bicolor sbOMT3
pET-28a(+) carrying opTAL, CCL, and KSTS
pET-28a(+) carrying opTAL, CCL, KSTS, and sbCOM1
pET-28a(+) carrying opTAL, CCL, KSTS, and sbCOM3
pET-28a(+) carrying opTAL, CCL, KSTS, sbCOM1, and sbCOM3
E. coli DH5a
E. coli C41(DE3)
derivative strain of E. coli BL21(DE3)
Miroux B & Walker JE 
Production of methylated resveratrol analogs
The recombinant E. coli C41 (DE3) strains that harbored plasmids were precultured overnight at 37°C in a Luria-Bertani (LB) medium containing 50 μg/mL of appropriate antibiotics (ampicillin for to maintain the pET-22b(+)-derived plasmids and kanamycin for the pET-28a(+)-derived plasmids). The overnight culture was inoculated (1.5%) into a fresh LB medium supplemented with the same concentration of appropriate antibiotics. The culture was grown at 37°C to an optical density of 600 nm (OD600) with 0.6. IPTG being added to the final concentration of 1 mM, and the culture was incubated for 6 hours. The cells were harvested via centrifugation, and then suspended and incubated at 26°C for 36 hours in a modified M9 medium (M9 medium supplemented with 15 g/L glucose, 25 g/L CaCO3, 1 mM IPTG and 50 μg/mL appropriate antibiotics). For the feeding experiments, the cultures were supplemented with resveratrol (final concentration: 70 μM) and allowed to grow for an additional 36 hours.
Twenty milliliters of culture was extracted with an equal volume of ethyl acetate. The ethyl acetate was dried and resuspended in 200 μL of methanol. Twenty microliters of the extract was applied to a J’sphere ODS-H80 column (4.6 × 150 mm i.d., 5 μm; YMC, Japan) using a high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) system [CH3CN-H2O (0.05% trifluoroacetic acid(TFA)) 20% to 100% acetonitrile (CH3CN) for 25 min, 100% CH3CN for 5 min, at flow rate of 1 mL/min; Dionex, USA] equipped with a photodiode array detector. A liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) was performed using an LTQ XL linear ion trap (Thermo Scientific, USA) equipped with an electrospray ionization (ESI) source that was coupled to a rapid separation LC (RSLC; ultimate 3000, Thermo Scientific) system (ESI-LC–MS) using a Cosmosil 2.5 Cholester column (Nacalai Tesque, Japan) (2.0 × 100 mm; 2.5 μm particle size) with a linear gradient of the binary solvent system under the same HPLC conditions as described above. The ESI (positive ion) parameters for the methylated resveratrol compounds were the source voltage (+5KV), entrance capillary voltage (+18 V) entrance capillary temperature (275°C), and tube lens voltage (+120 V). The scan range was fixed from m/z 50 to 1000. The data-dependent mass spectrometry experiments were controlled using the menu driven software provide with the Xcalibur system (version 2.2 SP1.48; Thermo Scientific). The compounds were identified through comparisons with the standard compounds using the observed retention time, ultraviolet spectra, and mass chromatogram.
Purification and structural elucidation of the methylated resveratrol analogs
The recombinant E. coli strains that harbored the pET-opTLO13S plasmid were cultured via the same method as described earlier, but the culture volume was increased to 4 liters. The isolation processes were undertaken as described above. The EtOAc-soluble material (0.9 g) was further purified by reverse-phase HPLC (Waters Co., USA) using the YMC J’sphere ODS-H80 (10 × 250 mm, 3 mL/min) with a linear gradient from 20% to 100% CH3CN containing 0.05% TFA in order to yield 3,5-dihydroxy-4’-methoxystilbene (4.2 mg), 3,4’-dimethoxy-5-hydroxystilbene (2.1 mg), and 3,5,4’-trimethoxystilbene (0.9 mg). The structural elucidation of the purified compounds was undertaken using 1H NMR spectroscopy. The NMR experiments were performed on a Bruker AVANCE 800 spectrometer (800 MHz; Bruker Inc., USA) and BarianunityIonva-400 instrument. The structures of 3,5-dihydroxy-4’-methoxystilbene, 3,4’-dimethoxy-5-hydroxystilbene and 3,5,4’-trimethoxystilbene were determined based on the NMR data.
This work was supported in part by Basic Science Research program (2012–0001421) and Global R&D Center program funded by the NRF and by the Next-Generation BioGreen 21 Program (SSAC, PJ009549022014) funded by the RDA, Republic of Korea. We thank the Korea Basic Science Institute for the NMR measurements.
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