Unnatural nucleosides are attracting interest as potential diagnostic tools, medicines, and functional molecules. However, it is difficult to couple unnatural nucleobases to the 1′-position of ribose in high yield and with β-regioselectivity. Purine nucleoside phosphorylase (PNP, EC184.108.40.206) is a metabolic enzyme that catalyses the conversion of inosine to ribose-1α-phosphate and free hypoxanthine in phosphate buffer with 100% α-selectivity. We explored whether PNP can be used to synthesize unnatural nucleosides. PNP catalysed the reaction of thymidine as a ribose donor with purine to produce 2′-deoxynebularine (3, β form) in high conversion (80%). It also catalysed the phosphorolysis of thymidine and introduced a pyrimidine base with a halogen atom substituted at the 5-position into the 1′-position of ribose in moderate yield (52-73%), suggesting that it exhibits loose selectivity. For a bulky purine substrate [e.g., 6-(N,N-di-propylamino)], the yield was lower, but addition of a polar solvent such as dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) increased the yield to 74%. PNP also catalysed the reaction between thymidine and uracil possessing a large functional fluorescent group, 5-(coumarin-7-oxyhex-5-yn) uracil (C4U). Conversion to 2′-deoxy-[5-(coumarin-7-oxyhex-5-yn)] uridine (dRC4U) was drastically enhanced by DMSO addition. Docking simulations between dRC4U and E. coli PNP (PDB 3UT6) showed the uracil moiety in the active-site pocket of PNP with the fluorescent moiety at the entrance of the pocket. Thus, the bulky fluorescent moiety has little influence on the coupling reaction. In summary, we have developed an efficient method for producing unnatural nucleosides, including purine derivatives and modified uracil, using PNP.
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