Triterpenoid saponins are naturally occurring structurally diverse glycosides of triterpenes that are widely distributed among plant species. Great interest has been expressed by pharmaceutical and agriculture industries for the glycosylation of triterpenes. Such modifications alter their taste and bio-absorbability, affect their intra-/extracellular transport and storage in plants, and induce novel biological activities in the human body. Uridine diphosphate (UDP)-glycosyltransferases (UGTs) catalyze glycosylation using UDP sugar donors. These enzymes belong to a multigene family and recognize diverse natural products, including triterpenes, as the acceptor molecules. For this review, we collected and analyzed all of the UGT sequences found in Arabidopsis thaliana as well as 31 other species of triterpene-producing plants. To identify potential UGTs with novel functions in triterpene glycosylation, we screened and classified those candidates based on similarity with UGTs from Panax ginseng, Glycine max, Medicago truncatula, Saponaria vaccaria, and Barbarea vulgaris that are known to function in glycosylate triterpenes. We highlight recent findings on UGT inducibility by methyl jasmonate, tissue-specific expression, and subcellular localization, while also describing their catalytic activity in terms of regioselectivity for potential key UGTs dedicated to triterpene glycosylation in plants. Discovering these new UGTs expands our capacity to manipulate the biological and physicochemical properties of such valuable molecules.
- Panax ginseng
- Uridine diphosphate glycosyltransferase