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Nucleic Acids Res. 2001 Mar 1;29(5):1097-106.

Radical SAM, a novel protein superfamily linking unresolved steps in familiar biosynthetic pathways with radical mechanisms: functional characterization using new analysis and information visualization methods.

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Applied Mathematics, Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL), Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, WA 99352, USA.


A novel protein superfamily with over 600 members was discovered by iterative profile searches and analyzed with powerful bioinformatics and information visualization methods. Evidence exists that these proteins generate a radical species by reductive cleavage of S:-adenosylmethionine (SAM) through an unusual Fe-S center. The superfamily (named here Radical SAM) provides evidence that radical-based catalysis is important in a number of previously well- studied but unresolved biochemical pathways and reflects an ancient conserved mechanistic approach to difficult chemistries. Radical SAM proteins catalyze diverse reactions, including unusual methylations, isomerization, sulfur insertion, ring formation, anaerobic oxidation and protein radical formation. They function in DNA precursor, vitamin, cofactor, antibiotic and herbicide biosynthesis and in biodegradation pathways. One eukaryotic member is interferon-inducible and is considered a candidate drug target for osteoporosis; another is observed to bind the neuronal Cdk5 activator protein. Five defining members not previously recognized as homologs are lysine 2,3-aminomutase, biotin synthase, lipoic acid synthase and the activating enzymes for pyruvate formate-lyase and anaerobic ribonucleotide reductase. Two functional predictions for unknown proteins are made based on integrating other data types such as motif, domain, operon and biochemical pathway into an organized view of similarity relationships.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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