Quantitative isotopic ^1^3C nuclear magnetic resonance at natural abundance to probe enzyme reaction mechanisms via site-specific isotope fractionation: The case of the chain-shortening reaction for the bioconversion of ferulic acid to vanillin
Isotope fractionation is a powerful technique by which to probe the reaction mechanism of enzymes. The effect of a heavy isotope on the reaction energetics can be used to predict transition state architecture and reaction mechanism. In order to examine simultaneously the isotope fractionation in ^1^3C at multiple sites within the substrate and product molecules without any need for site-selective isotope enrichment, a technique exploiting quantitative isotopic nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometry at natural abundance (NAQ-NMR) has been developed. Here we report the first application of this technique to the study of an enzyme-catalyzed reaction, the bioconversion of ferulic acid to vanillin in cultures of Streptomyces setonii. We were able to show that the NAQ-NMR methodology is sufficiently precise and robust to measure the isotope shifts in the ^1^3C/^1^2C ratios in both substrate and product of this biotransformation, thereby permitting meaningful data to be obtained even at carbon positions that take part only indirectly in the reaction and show only secondary isotope fractionation. The results obtained provide direct evidence in support of the current hypothesis for the reaction mechanism of the enzyme hydroxycinnamoyl-CoA hydratase/lyase, notably the proposed involvement of the quinone methide enolate of feruloyl-CoA as intermediate in the catalytic pathway.