Cloning, functional expression and phylogenetic analysis of plant sterol 24C-methyltransferases involved in sitosterol biosynthesis

Anjanasree K. Neelakandan, Zhihong Song, Junqing Wang, Matthew H. Richards, Xiaolei Wu, Babu Valliyodan, Henry T. Nguyen, W. David Nes

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37 Scopus citations


Sterol 24C-methyltransferases (SMTs) constitute a group of sequence-related proteins that catalyze the distinct patterns of 24-alkyl sterols that occur throughout nature. Two SMT cDNAs (SMT2-1 and SMT2-2) were cloned by homology based PCR methods from young leaves of Glycine max (soybean) and the corresponding enzymes were expressed functionally in Escherichia coli. The full-length cDNA for SMT2-1 and SMT2-2 have open reading frames of 1086 bp and 1092 bp, respectively, and encode proteins of 361 and 363 residues with a calculated molecular mass of 40.3 and 40.4 kDa, respectively. The substrate preference of the two isoforms was similar yet they differed from SMT1; kinetically SMT2-1 and SMT2-2 generated kcat values for the optimal substrate 24(28)methylene lophenol of 0.8 min-1 and 1.34 min-1, respectively, compared to the activity of SMT1 that generated a kcat for the optimal substrate cycloartenol of 0.6 min-1. SMT2-2 was purified to homogeneity and the subunit organization shown to be tetrameric in similar fashion to other cloned SMTs. Analysis of the accumulated products catalyzed by the recombinant enzymes demonstrated that soybean SMT2-1 and SMT2-2 operate transalkylation activities analogous to the soybean plant SMT1. Metabolite analyses correlated with transcript profiling of the three SMT isoforms during soybean maturation clearly demonstrated that SMT isoform expression determines specific C24-methyl to C24-ethyl ratios to flowering whereas with seed development there is a disconnection such that the SMT transcript levels decrease against an increase in sterol content; generally SMT2-2 is expressed more than SMT2-1 or SMT1. These observations suggest that the genes that encode SMT1 and SMT2 in sitosterol biosynthesis may have undergone divergent evolution. In support of this proposition, the genomic organization for SMT1 of fungi and protozoa align very closely with one another and to those of the plant SMT2; both sets of SMTs lack introns. Unexpectedly, the SMT1 from Glycine max and other embryophytes of diverse origin possess disparate intron-exon characteristics that can be shown relates back to the algae. Our results suggest that the order of SMT1 appearing before SMT2 in phytosterol synthesis arose recently in plant evolution in response to duplication of a more primitive SMT gene likely to have been bifunctional and catalytically promiscuous.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1982-1998
Number of pages17
Issue number17-18
StatePublished - Dec 2009


  • Evolution
  • Intron-exon organization
  • Mechanism-based inhibitor
  • Phylogenetics
  • SMT
  • Sitosterol
  • Sterol 24C-methyltransferase
  • Sterol methyltransferase transcript profiling


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