Stalk cell differentiation during development of the slime mould Dictyostelium is induced by a chlorinated alkyl phenone called differentiation-inducing factor-1 (DIF-1). Inactivation of DIF-1 is likely to be a key element in the DIF-1 signalling system, and we have shown previously that this is accomplished by a dedicated metabolic pathway involving up to 12 unidentified metabolites. We report here the structure of the first four metabolites produced from DIF-1, as deduced by m.s., n.m.r. and chemical synthesis. The structures of these compounds show that the first step in metabolism is a dechlorination of the phenolic ring, producing DIF metabolite 1 (DM1). DM1 is identical with the previously known minor DIF activity, DIF-3. DIF-3 is then metabolized by three successive oxidations of its aliphatic side chain: a hydroxylation at omega-2 to produce DM2, oxidation of the hydroxy group to a ketone group to produce DM3 and a further hydroxylation at omega-1 to produce DM4, a hydroxyketone of DIF-3. We have investigated the enzymology of DIF-1 metabolism. It is already known that the first step, to produce DIF-3, is catalysed by a novel dechlorinase. The enzyme activity responsible for the first side-chain oxidation (DIF-3 hydroxylase) was detected by incubating [3H]DIF-3 with cell-free extracts and resolving the reaction products by t.l.c. DIF-3 hydroxylase has many of the properties of a cytochrome P-450. It is membrane-bound and uses NADPH as co-substrate. It is also inhibited by CO, the classic cytochrome P-450 inhibitor, and by several other cytochrome P-450 inhibitors, as well as by diphenyliodonium chloride, an inhibitor of cytochrome P-450 reductase. DIF-3 hydroxylase is highly specific for DIF-3: other closely related compounds do not compete for the activity at 100-fold molar excess, with the exception of the DIF-3 analogue lacking the chlorine atom. The Km for DIF-3 of 47 nM is consistent with this enzyme being responsible for DIF-3 metabolism in vivo. The two further oxidations necessary to produce DM4 are also performed in vitro by similar enzyme activities. One of the inhibitors of DIF-3 hydroxylase, ancymidol (IC50 67 nM) is likely to be particularly suitable for probing the function of DIF metabolism during development.

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