The pharmaceutically important anticancer drugs etoposide and teniposide are derived from podophyllotoxin, a natural product isolated from roots of Podophyllum hexandrum growing in the wild. The overexploitation of this endangered plant has led to the search for alternative sources. Metabolic engineering aimed at constructing the pathway in another host cell is very appealing, but for that approach, an in-depth knowledge of the pathway toward podophyllotoxin is necessary. In this chapter, we give an overview of the lignan pathway leading to podophyllotoxin. Subsequently, we will discuss the engineering possibilities to produce podophyllotoxin in a heterologous host. This will require detailed knowledge on the cellular localization of the enzymes of the lignan biosynthesis pathway. Due to the high number of enzymes involved and the scarce information on compartmentalization, the heterologous production of podophyllotoxin still remains a tremendous challenge. At the moment, research is focusing on the last step(s) in the conversion of deoxypodophyllotoxin to (epi)podophyllotoxin and 4′-demethyldesoxypodophyllotoxin by plant cytochromes.
Part of the book: Natural Products and Cancer Drug Discovery