A prominent attribute of chemical structure in microbial and plant natural products is aromatic C-glycosylation. In plants, various flavonoid natural products have a β-C-D-glucosyl moiety attached to their core structure. Natural product C-glycosides have attracted significant attention for their own unique bioactivity as well as for representing non-hydrolysable analogs of the canonical O-glycosides. The biosynthesis of natural product C-glycosides is accomplished by sugar nucleotide-dependent (Leloir) glycosyltransferases. Here, we provide an overview on the C-glycosyltransferases of microbial, plant and insect origin that have been biochemically characterized. Despite sharing basic evolutionary relationships, as evidenced by their common membership to glycosyltransferase family GT-1 and conserved GT-B structural fold, the known C-glycosyltransferases are diverse in the structural features that govern their reactivity, selectivity and specificity. Bifunctional glycosyltransferases can form C- and O-glycosides dependent on the structure of the aglycon acceptor. Recent crystal structures of plant C-glycosyltransferases and di-C-glycosyltransferases complement earlier structural studies of bacterial enzymes and provide important molecular insight into the enzymatic discrimination between C- and O-glycosylation. Studies of enzyme structure and mechanism converge on the view of a single displacement (SN2)-like mechanism of enzymatic C-glycosyl transfer, largely analogous to O-glycosyl transfer. The distinction between reactions at the O- or C-acceptor atom is achieved through the precise positioning of the acceptor relative to the donor substrate in the binding pocket. Nonetheless, C-glycosyltransferases may differ in the catalytic strategy applied to induce nucleophilic reactivity at the acceptor carbon. Evidence from the mutagenesis of C-glycosyltransferases may become useful in engineering these enzymes for tailored reactivity.
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