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Structure. 1999 May;7(5):539-48.

Helix swapping between two alpha/beta barrels: crystal structure of phosphoenolpyruvate mutase with bound Mg(2+)-oxalate.

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  • 1Center for Advanced Research in Biotechnology, University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute, Rockville 20850, USA.



Phosphonate compounds are important secondary metabolites in nature and, when linked to macromolecules in eukaryotes, they might play a role in cell signaling. The first obligatory step in the biosynthesis of phosphonates is the formation of a carbon-phosphorus bond by converting phosphoenolpyruvate (PEP) to phosphonopyruvate (P-pyr), a reaction that is catalyzed by PEP mutase. The PEP mutase functions as a tetramer and requires magnesium ions (Mg2+).


The crystal structure of PEP mutase from the mollusk Mytilus edulis, bound to the inhibitor Mg(2+)-oxalate, has been determined using multiwavelength anomalous diffraction, exploiting the selenium absorption edge of a selenomethionine-containing protein. The structure has been refined at 1.8 A resolution. PEP mutase adopts a modified alpha/beta barrel fold, in which the eighth alpha helix projects away from the alpha/beta barrel instead of packing against the beta sheet. A tightly associated dimer is formed, such that the two eighth helices are swapped, each packing against the beta sheet of the neighboring molecule. A dimer of dimers further associates into a tetramer. Mg(2+)-oxalate is buried close to the center of the barrel, at the C-terminal ends of the beta strands.


The tetramer observed in the crystal is likely to be physiologically relevant. Because the Mg(2+)-oxalate is inaccessible to solvent, substrate binding and dissociation might be accompanied by conformational changes. A mechanism involving a phosphoenzyme intermediate is proposed, with Asp58 acting as the nucleophilic entity that accepts and delivers the phosphoryl group. The active-site architecture and the chemistry performed by PEP mutase are different from other alpha/beta-barrel proteins that bind pyruvate or PEP, thus the enzyme might represent a new family of alpha/beta-barrel proteins.

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