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Biochemistry. 1999 Jan 12;38(2):826-37.

PHA synthase from chromatium vinosum: cysteine 149 is involved in covalent catalysis.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge 02139, USA.


Polyhydroxyalkanoate synthase (PHA) from Chromatium vinosum catalyzes the conversion of 3-hydroxybutyryl-CoA (HB-CoA) to polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) and CoA. The synthase is composed of a approximately 1:1 mixture of two subunits, PhaC and PhaE. Size-exclusion chromatography indicates that in solution PhaC and PhaE exist as large molecular weight aggregates. The holo-enzyme, PhaEC, has a specific activity of 150 units/mg. Each subunit was cloned, expressed, and purified as a (His)6-tagged construct. The PhaC-(His)6 protein catalyzed polymerization with a specific activity of 0.9 unit/mg; the PhaE-(His)6 protein was inactive (specific activity <0.001 unit/mg). Addition of PhaE-(His)6 to PhaC-(His)6 increased the activity several 100-fold. To investigate the priming step of the polymerization process, the PhaEC was incubated with a trimer of HB-CoA in which the terminal hydroxyl was replaced with tritium ([3H]-sT-CoA). After Sephadex G50 chromatography, the synthase contained approximately 0.25 equiv of the labile label per PhaC. Incubation of [3H]-sT-synthase with HB-CoA resulted in production of [3H]-polymer. Digestion of [3H]-sT-synthase with trypsin and HPLC analysis resulted in isolation of three labeled peptides. Sequencing by ion trap mass spectrometry showed that they were identical and that they each contained an altered cysteine (C149). One peptide contained the [3H]-sT while the other two contained, in addition to the [3H]-sT, one and two additional monomeric HBs, respectively. Mutation of C149 to alanine gave inactive synthase. The remaining two cysteines of PhaC, 292 and 130, were also mutated to alanine. The former had wild-type (wt) activity, while the latter had 0.004 wt % activity and was capable of making polymer. A mechanism is proposed in which PhaC contains all the elements essential for catalysis and the polymerization proceeds by covalent catalysis using C149 and potentially C130.

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