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J Biol Chem. 2005 Nov 4;280(44):36962-9. Epub 2005 Aug 11.

The residue mass of L-pyrrolysine in three distinct methylamine methyltransferases.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio 43210, USA.


Single in-frame amber (UAG) codons are found in the genes encoding MtmB, MtbB, or MttB, the methyltransferases initiating methane formation from monomethylamine, dimethylamine, or trimethylamine, respectively, in certain Archaea. The crystal structure of MtmB demonstrated that the amber codon codes for pyrrolysine, the 22nd genetically encoded amino acid found in nature. Previous attempts to visualize the amber-encoded residue by mass spectrometry identified only lysine, leaving information on the existence and structure of pyrrolysine resting entirely on crystallography of a single protein. Here we report successful mass spectral characterization of naturally occurring pyrrolysine and the first demonstration of the amber-encoded residue in proteins other than MtmB. The sequencing of chymotryptic fragments from acetonitrile-denatured proteins by tandem mass spectrometry revealed the mass of the amber-encoded residue in MtmB, MtbB, and MttB as 237.2 +/- 0.2 Da. Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry produced an accurate measurement for the pyrrolysyl-residue as 237.1456 Da, within error limits of the predicted mass based on the empirical formula C(12)H(19)N(3)O(2). These measurements support the structure of pyrrolysine in MtmB as 4-methylpyrroline-5-carboxylate in amide linkage with the (epsilon)N of lysine but not the alternative structure in which the 4-substituent of the pyrroline ring is an amine group. The presence of pyrrolysine with statistically identical mass in all three methyltransferases is in keeping with the proposed direct incorporation of pyrrolysine into protein during translation of the UAG codon and suggests that MtbB and MttB may exploit the unusual electrophilicity of pyrrolysine during catalysis.

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