Background: Although the lignins and lignans, both monolignol-derived coupling products, account for nearly 300% of the organic carbon circulating in the biosphere, the biosynthetic mechanism of their formation has been poorly understood. The prevailing view has been that lignins and lignans are produced by random free-radical polymerization and coupling, respectively. This view is challenged, mechanistically, by the recent discovery of dirigent proteins that precisely determine both the regiochemical and stereoselective outcome of monolignol radical coupling. Results: To understand further the regulation and control of monolignol coupling, leading to both lignan and lignin formation, we sought to clone the first genes encoding dirigent proteins from several species. The encoding genes, described here, have no sequence homology with any other protein of known function. When expressed in a heterologous system, the recombinant protein was able to confer strict regiochemical and stereochemical control on monolignol free-radical coupling. The expression in plants of dirigent proteins and proposed dirigent protein arrays in developing xylem and in other lignified tissues indicates roles for these proteins in both lignan formation and lignification. Conclusions: The first understanding of regiochemical and stereochemical control of monolignol coupling in lignan biosynthesis has been established via the participation of a new class of dirigent proteins. Immunological studies have also implicated the involvement of potential corresponding arrays of dirigent protein sites in controlling lignin biopolymer assembly.
- Dirigent protein
- Radical coupling