• Open Access

Regulation and compartmentalization of β-lactam biosynthesis


E-mail jf.martin@unileon.es; Tel. (+34) 987 29 15 05; Fax (+34) 987 29 15 06.


Penicillins and cephalosporins are β-lactam antibiotics widely used in human medicine. The biosynthesis of these compounds starts by the condensation of the amino acids l-α-aminoadipic acid, l-cysteine and l-valine to form the tripeptide δ-l-α-aminoadipyl-l-cysteinyl-d-valine catalysed by the non-ribosomal peptide ‘ACV synthetase’. Subsequently, this tripeptide is cyclized to isopenicillin N that in Penicillium is converted to hydrophobic penicillins, e.g. benzylpenicillin. In Acremonium and in streptomycetes, isopenicillin N is later isomerized to penicillin N and finally converted to cephalosporin. Expression of genes of the penicillin (pcbAB, pcbC, pendDE) and cephalosporin clusters (pcbAB, pcbC, cefD1, cefD2, cefEF, cefG) is controlled by pleitropic regulators including LaeA, a methylase involved in heterochromatin rearrangement. The enzymes catalysing the last two steps of penicillin biosynthesis (phenylacetyl-CoA ligase and isopenicillin N acyltransferase) are located in microbodies, as shown by immunoelectron microscopy and microbodies proteome analyses. Similarly, the Acremonium two-component CefD1–CefD2 epimerization system is also located in microbodies. This compartmentalization implies intracellular transport of isopenicillin N (in the penicillin pathway) or isopenicillin N and penicillin N in the cephalosporin route. Two transporters of the MFS family cefT and cefM are involved in transport of intermediates and/or secretion of cephalosporins. However, there is no known transporter of benzylpenicillin despite its large production in industrial strains.