Understanding the Enzymes Behind the Health Benefits of Wolfberry Compounds

Greg Howard
31st May, 2024

Understanding the Enzymes Behind the Health Benefits of Wolfberry Compounds

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • A study from Jinan University discovered new bioactive compounds in wolfberry called lycibarbarspermidines
  • Researchers identified five enzymes, LbUGT1-5, that attach sugar molecules to these compounds, altering their properties
  • The study highlights the unique roles of LbUGT3 and LbUGT1 in creating diverse lycibarbarspermidines, enhancing wolfberry's medicinal potential
Lycium barbarum, commonly known as wolfberry or goji berry, has been a staple in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries, renowned for its numerous health benefits. Recent scientific interest has turned towards understanding the bioactive compounds in wolfberry, particularly its polysaccharides and their effects on health. However, a new study from Jinan University unveils a different class of bioactive ingredients in wolfberry—lycibarbarspermidines—and identifies the enzymes responsible for their unique glycosylation processes[1]. Lycibarbarspermidines are phenolamide glycosides characterized by a dicaffeoylspermidine core with multiple sugar (glycosyl) groups attached. These compounds are significant due to their diverse structures and potential biological activities. The study identifies five glycosyltransferases, named LbUGT1-5, which are enzymes that facilitate the attachment of sugar molecules to dicaffeoylspermidines, thus creating various lycibarbarspermidines. This process of glycosylation is crucial as it alters the chemical properties and biological activities of the compounds. Among these enzymes, LbUGT3 and LbUGT1 stand out due to their unique catalytic properties. LbUGT3 performs a tandem sugar transfer to the ortho-dihydroxy group on the caffeoyl moiety, resulting in an unusual ortho-diglucosylated product. On the other hand, LbUGT1 distinguishes between caffeoyl and dihydrocaffeoyl groups to carry out a site-selective sugar transfer. This specificity in glycosylation is fascinating as it contributes to the chemical diversity of lycibarbarspermidines in wolfberry. The study further delves into the structural basis of these enzymes' selectivity. By analyzing the crystal structures of LbUGT1 and LbUGT3 in complex with UDP (a sugar donor molecule), and performing molecular dynamics simulations, researchers identified a conserved tyrosine residue (Y389 in LbUGT1 and Y390 in LbUGT3) in the PSPG box (a common motif in glycosyltransferases) that plays a pivotal role in regulating the regioselectivity of these enzymes. Site-directed mutagenesis, a technique where specific amino acids in a protein are altered, confirmed the importance of this tyrosine residue. This research adds a new dimension to our understanding of wolfberry's bioactive compounds. Previous studies have highlighted the health benefits of Lycium barbarum polysaccharides (LBPS), such as their antioxidant, immunomodulatory, and hepatoprotective properties[2]. For instance, LBPS have been shown to modulate gut microbiota and enhance immune responses in immunosuppressed mice[3]. Additionally, LBPS can mitigate kidney damage induced by heavy metals like lead by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation[4]. The discovery of lycibarbarspermidines and their glycosyltransferases not only expands the repertoire of bioactive compounds in wolfberry but also opens new avenues for understanding their health benefits. The enzymatic mechanisms elucidated in this study provide a foundation for future research into the potential therapeutic applications of lycibarbarspermidines. By manipulating these enzymes, it might be possible to produce specific lycibarbarspermidines with desired biological activities, thus enhancing the medicinal value of wolfberry. In summary, the study from Jinan University sheds light on the enzymatic processes behind the formation of lycibarbarspermidines in wolfberry. By identifying and characterizing the glycosyltransferases involved, researchers have uncovered the structural basis for the chemical diversity of these compounds. This discovery complements existing knowledge on the health benefits of Lycium barbarum polysaccharides and underscores the potential of wolfberry as a source of novel therapeutic agents.

MedicineBiochemPlant Science


Main Study

1) Functional and structural dissection of glycosyltransferases underlying the glycodiversity of wolfberry-derived bioactive ingredients lycibarbarspermidines.

Published 30th May, 2024


Related Studies

2) Biological activities and potential health benefit effects of polysaccharides isolated from Lycium barbarum L.


3) Modulating effects of polysaccharides from the fruits of Lycium barbarum on the immune response and gut microbiota in cyclophosphamide-treated mice.


4) Study on the Efficacy and Mechanism of Lycium barbarum Polysaccharide against Lead-Induced Renal Injury in Mice.


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