BACKGROUND:Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) is a medicinal plant whose signature bioactive compounds, marrubiin and related furanoid diterpenoid lactones, have potential applications for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases and type II diabetes. Lack of scalable plant cultivation and the complex metabolite profile of M. vulgare limit access to marrubiin via extraction from plant biomass. Knowledge of the marrubiin-biosynthetic enzymes can enable the development of metabolic engineering platforms for marrubiin production. We previously identified two diterpene synthases, MvCPS1 and MvELS, that act sequentially to form 9,13-epoxy-labd-14-ene. Conversion of 9,13-epoxy-labd-14-ene by cytochrome P450 monooxygenase (P450) enzymes can be hypothesized to facilitate key functional modification reactions in the formation of marrubiin and related compounds. RESULTS:Mining a M. vulgare leaf transcriptome database identified 95 full-length P450 candidates. Cloning and functional analysis of select P450 candidates showing high transcript abundance revealed a member of the CYP71 family, CYP71AU87, that catalyzed the hydroxylation of 9,13-epoxy-labd-14-ene to yield two isomeric products, 9,13-epoxy labd-14-ene-18-ol and 9,13-epoxy labd-14-ene-19-ol, as verified by GC-MS and NMR analysis. Additional transient Nicotiana benthamiana co-expression assays of CYP71AU87 with different diterpene synthase pairs suggested that CYP71AU87 is specific to the sequential MvCPS1 and MvELS product 9,13-epoxy-labd-14-ene. Although the P450 products were not detectable in planta, high levels of CYP71AU87 gene expression in marrubiin-accumulating tissues supported a role in the formation of marrubiin and related diterpenoids in M. vulgare. CONCLUSIONS:In a sequential reaction with the diterpene synthase pair MvCPS1 and MvELS, CYP71AU87 forms the isomeric products 9,13-epoxy labd-14-ene-18/19-ol as probable intermediates in marrubiin biosynthesis. Although its metabolic relevance in planta will necessitate further genetic studies, identification of the CYP71AU87 catalytic activity expands our knowledge of the functional landscape of plant P450 enzymes involved in specialized diterpenoid metabolism and can provide a resource for the formulation of marrubiin and related bioactive natural products.