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J Biol Chem. 2001 Sep 28;276(39):36268-74. Epub 2001 Jul 17.

Thiocarboxylation of molybdopterin synthase provides evidence for the mechanism of dithiolene formation in metal-binding pterins.

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  • 1Botanical Institute, Technical University of Braunschweig, 38023 Braunschweig, Germany.


Molybdopterin (MPT) is a pyranopterin with a unique dithiolene group coordinating molybdenum (Mo) or tungsten (W) in all Mo- and W-enzymes except nitrogenase. In Escherichia coli, MPT is formed by incorporation of two sulfur atoms into precursor Z, which is catalyzed by MPT synthase. The recently solved crystal structure of MPT synthase (Rudolph, M. J., Wuebbens, M. M., Rajagopalan, K. V., and Schindelin, H. (2000) Nat. Struct. Biol. 8, 42-46) shows the heterotetrameric nature of the enzyme that is composed of two small (MoaD) and two large subunits (MoaE). According to sequence and structural similarities among MoaD, ubiquitin, and ThiS, a thiocarboxylation of the C terminus of MoaD is proposed that would serve as the source of sulfur that is transferred to precursor Z. Here, we describe the in vitro generation of carboxylated and thiocarboxylated MoaD. Both forms of MoaD are monomeric and are able to form a heterotetrameric complex after coincubation in equimolar ratios with MoaE. Only the thiocarboxylated MPT synthase complex was found to be able to convert precursor Z in vitro to MPT. Slight but significant differences between the carboxylated and the thiocarboxylated MPT synthase can be seen using size exclusion chromatography. A two-step reaction of MPT synthesis is proposed where the dithiolene is generated by two thiocarboxylates derived from a single tetrameric MPT synthase.

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