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Structure. 1999 Jul 15;7(7):733-44.

Pyruvate formate lyase is structurally homologous to type I ribonucleotide reductase.

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  • 1Centre for Biotechnology, University of Turku, Finland.



Pyruvate formate lyase (PFL) catalyses a key step in Escherichia coli anaerobic glycolysis by converting pyruvate and CoA to formate and acetylCoA. The PFL mechanism involves an unusual radical cleavage of pyruvate, involving an essential C alpha radical of Gly734 and two cysteine residues, Cys418 and Cys419, which may form thiyl radicals required for catalysis. We undertook this study to understand the structural basis for catalysis.


The first structure of a fragment of PFL (residues 1-624) at 2.8 A resolution shows an unusual barrel-like structure, with a catalytic beta finger carrying Cys418 and Cys419 inserted into the centre of the barrel. Several residues near the active-site cysteines can be ascribed roles in the catalytic mechanism: Arg176 and Arg435 are positioned near Cys419 and may bind pyruvate/formate and Trp333 partially buries Cys418. Both cysteine residues are accessible to each other owing to their cis relationship at the tip of the beta finger. Finally, two clefts that may serve as binding sites for CoA and pyruvate have been identified.


PFL has striking structural homology to the aerobic ribonucleotide reductase (RNR): the superposition of PFL and RNR includes eight of the ten strands in the unusual RNR alpha/beta barrel as well as the beta finger, which carries key catalytic residues in both enzymes. This provides the first structural proof that RNRs and PFLs are related by divergent evolution from a common ancestor.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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