Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Robert B. Grossman


Lolines are specialized metabolites produced by endophytic fungi, such as Neotyphodium and Epichloë species, that are in symbiotic relationships with cool-season grasses. Lolines are vital for the survival of the grasses because their insecticidal and antifeedant properties protect the plant from insect herbivory. Although lolines have various bioactivities, they do not have any concomitant antimammalian activities.

Lolines have complex structures that are unique among naturally occurring pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Lolines have four contiguous stereocenters, and they contain an ether bridge connecting C(2) and C(7) of the pyrrolizidine ring. An ether bridge connecting bridgehead C atoms is unusual in natural products and leads to interesting questions about the biosynthesis of lolines in fungal endophytes.

Dr. Pan, who was a graduate student in Dr. Schardl Lab at University of Kentucky, isolated a novel metabolite, 1-exo-acetamidopyrrolizidine (AcAP). She observed that AcAP was accumulating in naturally occurring and artificial lolO mutants. I synthesized an authentic sample of (±)-AcAP and compared it spectroscopically with AcAP isolated from a lolO mutant to determine the structure and stereochemistry of the natural product. I was also able to grow crystals of synthetic (±)-AcAP, X-ray analysis of which further supported our structure assignment.

There were two possible explanations for the fact that a missing or nonfunctional LolO led to the accumulation of AcAP: that AcAP was the actual substrate of LolO, or that it was a shunt product derived from the real substrate of LolO, 1-exo-aminopyrrolizidine (AP), and that was produced only when LolO was not available to oxidize AP. To distinguish between the two hypotheses, I synthesized 2´,2´,2´,3-[2H4]-AcAP. Dr. Pan used this material to confirm that AcAP was an intermediate in loline alkaloid biosynthesis, not a shunt product.

To determine the product of LolO acting on AcAP, Dr. Pan expressed LolO in yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae). When Dr. Pan fed AcAP (synthesized by me) to the modified organism, it produced NANL, suggesting that LolO catalyzed two C–H activations of AcAP and the formation of both C–O bonds of the ether bridge in NANL, a highly unusual transformation. Dr. Chang then cloned, expressed, and purified LolO and incubated it with (±)-AcAP, 2-oxoglutarate, and O2. He observed the production of NANL, further confirming the function of LolO. Dr. Chang also observed an intermediate, which we tentatively identified as 2-hydroxy-AcAP.

In order to determine whether the initial hydroxylation of AcAP catalyzed by LolO occurred at C(2) or C(7), I prepared (±)-7,7-[2H2]- and (±)-2,2,8-[2H3]-AcAP. When Dr. Pan measured the rate of LolO-catalyzed hydroxylation of these substrates under conditions under which only one C–H activation would occur, she observed a very large kinetic isotope effect when C(2) was deuterated, but not when C(7) was deuterated, establishing that the initial hydroxylation of AcAP occurred at the C(2) position.

In order to determine the stereochemical course of C–H bond oxidation by LolO at C(2) and C(7) of AcAP, I synthesized trans- and cis-3-[2H]-Pro and (2S,3R)-3-[2H]- and (2S,3S)-2,3-[2H2]-Asp. Feeding experiments with these substrates carried out by both Dr. Pan (Pro) and me (Asp) showed that at both the C(2) and C(7) positions of AcAP, LolO abstracted the endo H atoms during ether bridge formation.

In summary, feeding experiments with deuterated (±)-AcAP derivatives and its amino acid precursors have shown that AcAP is an intermediate in loline biosynthesis. We have shown that LolO catalyzes the four-electron oxidation of AcAP at the endo C(2) position first and then the endo C(7) position to give NANL.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)