Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Biology/Molecular, Cellular, and Organismal Biology

First Advisor

Manickam Sugumaran

Second Advisor

Steven Ackerman

Third Advisor

Jason Evans


Dehydrodopa/dopamine derivatives form an important group of biomolecules participating in sclerotization of all arthropod cuticles, gluing and cementing mussels and related organisms to solid surfaces, and defense reactions of countless marine and invertebrate organisms. Yet very little information is available on the biochemistry of these highly reactive and unstable molecules. To understand their physiological role, I conducted a thorough biochemical study on three representative compounds that cover the entire plethora of dehydrodopa/dopamine derivatives. Employing diode array UV-visible spectroscopy, HPLC, liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry, and electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry, I investigated the oxidation chemistry of 1,2-dehydro-N-acetyldopamine (dehydro NADA), 1,2-dehydro-N-acetyldopa and 1,2-dehydro-N-acetyldopa methyl ester. Tyrosinase converted dehydro NADA to a reactive quinone methide that formed oligomeric products with the parent compound. The sister enzyme laccase, produced semiquinone radicals that exhibited a novel coupling reaction producing just dimers. Nonenzymatic oxidation of dehydro NADA also produced semiquinone radicals that formed oligomeric products. Moreover, nonenzymatic oxidation resulted in the production of superoxide anions that could function in defense reactions. The nonenzymatic oxidation studies on dehydro NADA at mild alkaline conditions revealed the mechanisms of defense reactions and tunic formation in a vast array of tunicates. Oxidative transformations of 1,2-dehydro-N-acetyldopa indicated a new route for the biosynthesis of a vast array of bioactive marine molecules possessing dihydroxycoumarin skeleton. In addition, it revealed new transformations of coumarins to oligomeric products via highly reactive quinone methide intermediates. Biochemical studies on 1,2-dehydro-N-acetyldopa methyl ester revealed a new Diels Alder type condensation of its quinone with the parent compound. This reaction shed light on the mode of gluing of mussels and other bivalves to solid surfaces as well as the hardening reactions occurring in their periostracum. I also examined the oxidation chemistry of dehydro NADA with a model nucleophile, N-acetylcysteine and discovered yet another new addition reaction of dehydro NADA that has tremendous biological significance. Finally, I investigated the mechanism of dehydro NADA binding to insect cuticle using labeled compounds and established that they could uniquely produce ketocatecholic compound, arterenone upon hydrolysis. The biochemical significances of all these new reactions are discussed in the dissertation.