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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2001 Feb 9;1545(1-2):278-88.

Structural determinants influencing the reaction of cysteine-containing peptides with palmitoyl-coenzyme A and other thioesters.

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Department of Cell Biology and Physiology, University of New Mexico-Health Sciences Center, Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA.


Non-enzymatic thioesterification of specific cysteinyl peptides with fatty acyl-CoA has been previously demonstrated in both liposomes and aqueous medium. To identify the molecular basis for the differential reactivity of polypeptides in aqueous solutions, 26 synthetic cysteinyl peptides encompassing the palmitoylation sites of well known proteins (protein zero, proteolipid protein, beta-adrenergic receptor, p21(K-ras), transferrin receptor, CD-4 and SNAP-25) and six small thiol compounds were incubated separately with [3H]palmitoyl-CoA, [14C]acetyl-CoA and p-nitrophenyl thioacetate (NPTA). For each peptide, both the observed reaction rate constant at pH 7.5 and the pH-independent rate constant (k(2)) were calculated, and reactivity of the attacking sulfhydryl group was characterized using the Brønsted equation (log k(2)=beta(nuc) pK(a)+C). In general, peptides bearing basic and aromatic amino acid residues showed the lowest thiol pK(a)s, and consequently displayed the highest acylation rates. Reaction with palmitoyl-CoA was complicated to analyze because of the variable partition of peptides in the acyl chain donor/detergent micelles. In contrast, a linear Brønsted relationship was found for the reaction of the peptides with the water-soluble acetyl-CoA (beta(nuc)=0.59). A similar beta(nuc) value was obtained with the neutral NPTA, indicating that electronic effects other than those responsible for the acid-base properties of the thiol are less important. Thus, the concentration of the thiolate anion appears to be the major factor influencing the rate of the nucleophilic substitution reaction. These findings and the fact that the acylation sites in most proteins are surrounded by basic amino acids may partially explain the specificity of non-enzymatic palmitoylation regarding the acceptor sequences.

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