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J Biol Chem. 2004 Jul 30;279(31):32796-803. Epub 2004 Jun 2.

Determinants of function and substrate specificity in human UDP-galactose 4'-epimerase.

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  • 1Graduate Program in Nutrition and Health Sciences, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia 30322, USA.


UDP-galactose 4'-epimerase (GALE) interconverts UDP-galactose and UDP-glucose in the final step of the Leloir pathway. Unlike the Escherichia coli enzyme, human GALE (hGALE) also efficiently interconverts a larger pair of substrates: UDP-N-acetylgalactosamine and UDP-N-acetylglucosamine. The basis of this differential substrate specificity has remained obscure. Recently, however, x-ray crystallographic data have both predicted essential active site residues and suggested that differential active site cleft volume may be a key factor in determining GALE substrate selectivity. We report here a direct test of this hypothesis. In brief, we have created four substituted alleles: S132A, Y157F, S132A/Y157F, and C307Y-hGALE. While the first three substitutions were predicted to disrupt catalytic activity, the fourth was predicted to reduce active site cleft volume, thereby limiting entry or rotation of the larger but not the smaller substrate. All four alleles were expressed in a null-background strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae and characterized in terms of activity with regard to both UDP-galactose and UDP-N-acetylgalactosamine. The S132A/Y157F and C307Y-hGALE proteins were also overexpressed in Pichia pastoris and purified for analysis. In all forms tested, the Y157F, S132A, and Y157F/S132A-hGALE proteins each demonstrated a complete loss of activity with respect to both substrates. In contrast, the C307Y-hGALE demonstrated normal activity with respect to UDP-galactose but complete loss of activity with respect to UDP-N-acetylgalactosamine. Together, these results serve to validate the wild-type hGALE crystal structure and fully support the hypothesis that residue 307 acts as a gatekeeper mediating substrate access to the hGALE active site.

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