Prenylation of aromatic natural products by membrane-bound prenyltransferases (PTs) is an important biosynthesis step of many bioactive compounds. At present, only a few plant flavonoid-related PT genes have been functionally characterized, mainly due to the difficulties of expressing these membrane proteins. Rapid and effective methods to produce functional plant membrane proteins are thus indispensable. Here, we evaluated expression systems through cell-based and cell-free approaches to express Boesenbergia rotunda BrPT2 encoding a membrane-bound prenyltransferase. We attempted to express BrPT2 in Escherichia coli and tobacco plants but failed to detect this protein using the Western-blot technique, whereas an intact single band of 43 kDa was detected when BrPT2 was expressed using a cell-free protein synthesis system (PURE). Under in vitro enzymatic condition, the synthesized BrPT2 successfully catalyzed pinostrobin chalcone to pinostrobin. Molecular docking analysis showed that pinostrobin chalcone interacts with BrPT2 at two cavities: (1) the main binding site at the central cavity and (2) the allosteric binding site located away from the central cavity. Our findings suggest that cell-free protein synthesis could be an alternative for rapid production of valuable difficult-to-express membrane proteins.
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