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Protein Sci. 2003 Aug;12(8):1762-74.

Methylation and carbamylation of human gamma-crystallins.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE 68588, USA.


Accessible sulfhydryls of cysteine residues are likely sites of reaction in long-lived proteins such as human lens crystallins. Disulfide bonding between cysteines is a major contributor to intermolecular cross-linking and aggregation of crystallins. A recently reported modification of gammaS-crystallins, S-methylation of cysteine residues, can prevent disulfide formation. The aim of this study was to determine whether cysteines in gammaC-, gammaD-, and gammaB-crystallins are also S-methylated. Our data show that all the gamma-crystallins are S-methylated, but only at specific cysteines. In gammaD-crystallin, methylation is exclusively at Cys 110, whereas in gammaC- and gammaB-crystallins, the principal methylation site is Cys 22 with minor methylation at Cys 79. gammaD-crystallin is the most heavily methylated gamma-crystallin. gammaD-Crystallins from adult lenses are 37%-70% methylated, whereas gammaC and gammaB are approximately 12% methylated. The specificity of gamma-crystallin methylation and its occurrence in young clear lenses supports the idea that inhibition of disulfide bonding by S-methylation may play a protective role against cataract. Another modification, not reported previously, is carbamylation of the N termini of gammaB-, gammaC-, gammaD-crystallins. N-terminal carbamylation is likely a developmentally related modification that does not negatively impact crystallin function.

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