Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Evolutionary recruitment of a flavin-dependent monooxygenase for the detoxification of host plant-acquired pyrrolizidine alkaloids in the alkaloid-defended arctiid moth Tyria jacobaeae.

PMID 11972041


Larvae of Tyria jacobaeae feed solely upon the pyrrolizidine alkaloid-containing plant Senecio jacobaea. Ingested pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs), which are toxic to unspecialized insects and vertebrates, are efficiently N-oxidized in the hemolymph of T. jacobaeae by senecionine N-oxygenase (SNO), a flavin-dependent monooxygenase (FMO) with a high substrate specificity for PAs. Peptide microsequences obtained from purified T. jacobaeae SNO were used to clone the corresponding cDNA, which was expressed in active form in Escherichia coli. T. jacobaeae SNO possesses a signal peptide characteristic of extracellular proteins, and it belongs to a large family of mainly FMO-like sequences of mostly unknown function, including two predicted Drosophila melanogaster gene products. The data indicate that the gene for T. jacobaeae SNO, highly specific for toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids, was recruited from a preexisting insect-specific FMO gene family of hitherto unknown function. The enzyme allows the larvae to feed on PA-containing plants and to accumulate predation-deterrent PAs in the hemolymph.

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