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Pienkny, S.; Brandt, W.; Schmidt, J.; Kramell, R.; Ziegler, J. Functional characterization of a novel benzylisoquinoline O-methyltransferase suggests its involvement in papaverine biosynthesis in opium poppy (Papaver somniferum L) Plant J 60, 56 - 67, (2009) DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-313X.2009.03937.x

The benzylisoquinoline alkaloids are a highly diverse group of about 2500 compounds which accumulate in a species-specific manner. Despite the numerous compounds which could be identified, the biosynthetic pathways and the participating enzymes or cDNAs could be characterized only for a few selected members, whereas the biosynthesis of the majority of the compounds is still largely unknown. In an attempt to characterize additional biosynthetic steps at the molecular level, integration of alkaloid and transcript profiling across Papaver species was performed. This analysis showed high expression of an expressed sequence tag (EST) of unknown function only in Papaver somniferum varieties. After full-length cloning of the open reading frame and sequence analysis, this EST could be classified as a member of the class II type O-methyltransferase protein family. It was related to O-methyltransferases from benzylisoquinoline biosynthesis, and the amino acid sequence showed 68% identical residues to norcoclaurine 6-O-methyltransferase. However, rather than methylating norcoclaurine, the recombinant protein methylated norreticuline at position seven with a Km of 44 lM using S-adenosyl-L-methionine as a cofactor. Of all substrates tested, only norreticuline was converted.Even minor changes in the benzylisoquinoline backbone were not tolerated by the enzyme. Accordingly, the enzyme was named norreticuline 7–O-methyltransferase (N7OMT). This enzyme represents a novel Omethyltransferase in benzylisoquinoline metabolism. Expression analysis showed slightly increased expression of N7OMT in P. somniferum varieties containing papaverine, suggesting its involvement in the partially unknown biosynthesis of this pharmaceutically important compound.
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