Monoterpenoid indole alkaloids (MIAs) have remarkable biological properties that have led to their medical uses for a variety of human diseases. Mutagenesis has been used to generate plants with new alkaloid profiles and a useful screen for rapid comparison of MIA profiles is described. The MIA mutants identified are useful for investigating MIA biosynthesis and for targeted production of these specialised metabolites. The Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) is the sole source of the dimeric anticancer monoterpenoid indole alkaloids (MIAs), 3',4'-anhydrovinblastine and derivatives, which are formed via the coupling of the MIAs, catharanthine and vindoline. While intense efforts to identify parts of the complex pathways involved in the assembly of these dimers have been successful, our understanding of MIA biochemistry in C. roseus remains limited. A simple thin layer chromatography screen of 4000 ethyl methanesulfonate-metagenized M2 plants is described to identify mutant lines with altered MIA profiles. One mutant (M2-1865) accumulated reduced levels of vindoline inside the leaves in favour of high levels of tabersonine-2,3-epoxide and 16-methoxytabersonine-2,3-epoxide on the leaf surface. This MIA profile suggested that changes in tabersonine 3-reductase (T3R) activity might be responsible for the observed phenotype. Molecular cloning of mutant and wild type T3R revealed two nucleotide substitutions at cytosine residues 565 (CAT to TAT) and 903 (ACC to ACA) in the mutant corresponding to substitution (H189Y) and silent (T305T) amino acid mutations, respectively, in the protein. The single amino acid substitution in the mutant T3R protein diminished the biochemical activity of T3R by 95% that explained the reason for the low vindoline phenotype of the mutant. This phenotype was recessive and exhibited standard Mendelian single-gene inheritance. The stable formation and accumulation of epoxides in the M2-1865 mutant provides a dependable biological source of these two MIAs.
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