Utilization of Alternate Substrates by the First Three Modules of the Epothilone Synthetase Assembly Line

The epothilones, a family of macrolactone natural products produced by the myxobacterial species Sorangium cellulosum, are of current clinical interest as antitumor agents. Inspection of the structure of the epothilones suggests a hybrid polyketide/nonribosomal peptide biosynthetic origin, and the recent sequencing of the epothilone biosynthetic gene cluster has validated this proposal. Here we have examined unnatural substrates with the first two enzymes of the biosynthetic pathway, EpoA and EpoB, to investigate the enzymatic construction of alternate heterocyclic structures and the subsequent elongation of these products by the third enzyme of the pathway, EpoC. The epothilone biosynthetic machinery can utilize serine to install an oxazole in place of a thiazole in the epothilone structure and will tolerate functionalized donor groups from the EpoA-ACP domain to produce epothilone fragments modified at the C21 position. These studies with the early enzymes of the epothilone biosynthesis cluster suggest that combinatorial biosynthesis may be a viable means for producing a variety of epothilone analogues that incorporate diversity into the heterocycle starter unit.