Phenoxazinone synthase: mechanism for the formation of the phenoxazinone chromophore of actinomycin. Academic Article uri icon


  • Phenoxazinone synthase is a copper-containing oxidase that catalyzes the coupling of 2-aminophenols to form the 2-aminophenoxazinone chromophore. This reaction constitutes the final step in the biosynthesis of the potent antineoplastic agent actinomycin. The mechanism of this complex 6-electron oxidation was determined by using a variety of substituted 2-aminophenols, designed to block the reaction at intermediate stages. Thus, with 3,5-di-tert-butyl-2-aminophenol as substrate, the reaction was blocked at the o-quinone imine 17; with 5-tert-butyl-2-aminophenol (19) as substrate, the reaction was blocked at the p-quinone imine 20; and with 5-methyl-2-aminophenol (21) as substrate, the reaction was blocked at the dihydro-2-aminophenoxazinone 22. These findings suggested a mechanism in which 2-aminophenoxazinone formation proceeded via a quinone imine intermediate 4 that was trapped by a second molecule of 2-aminophenol. Oxidation of the adduct 5 to the p-quinone imine 6 was followed by a second conjugate addition and a final 2-electron oxidation to give the product, 2-aminophenoxazinone. The role of the enzyme in the catalysis of each of these steps was examined. It was found that the second conjugate addition generated a racemic center at C4a, suggesting that this reaction did not occur at the active site. A deuterium isotope effect on the cleavage of the C4-H bond of 2-aminophenol suggested that partial dissociation of an intermediate from the enzyme occurred after the first conjugate addition. It is proposed that 2-aminophenoxazinone synthesis proceeds via a sequence of three consecutive 2-electron aminophenol oxidations and that the aminophenol moiety is regenerated during the reaction sequence by facile tautomerization reactions. Thus, what initially appears to be an impressively complex mechanism may, in fact, be ingeniously simple.

published proceedings

  • Biochemistry

author list (cited authors)

  • Barry, C. E., Nayar, P. G., & Begley, T. P.

citation count

  • 142

complete list of authors

  • Barry, CE||Nayar, PG||Begley, TP

publication date

  • July 1989