The a-hydroxy ketones are used as building blocks for compounds of pharmaceutical interest (such as antidepressants, HIV-protease inhibitors and antitumorals). They can be obtained by the action of enzymes or whole cells on selected substrates, such as diketones. We have studied the enantiospecificities of several fungal (AKR3C1, AKR5F and AKR5G) and human (AKR1B1 and AKR1B10) aldo-keto reductases in the production of a-hydroxy ketones and diols from vicinal diketones. The reactions have been carried out with pure enzymes and with an NADPH-regenerating system consisting of glucose-6-phosphate and glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase. To ascertain the regio and stereoselectivity of the reduction reactions catalyzed by the AKRs, we have separated and characterized the reaction products by means of a gas chromatograph equipped with a chiral column and coupled to a mass spectrometer as a detector. According to the regioselectivity and stereoselectivity, the AKRs studied can be divided in two groups: one of them showed preference for the reduction of the proximal keto group, resulting in the S-enantiomer of the corresponding a-hydroxy ketones. The other group favored the reduction of the distal keto group and yielded the corresponding R-enantiomer. Three of the AKRs used (AKR1B1, AKR1B10 and AKR3C1) could produce 2,3-butanediol from acetoin. We have explored the structure/function relationships in the reactivity between several yeast and human AKRs and various diketones and acetoin. In addition, we have demonstrated the utility of these AKRs in the synthesis of selected a-hydroxy ketones and diols.
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