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Mol Cell. 2004 Mar 26;13(6):829-41.

Alanyl-tRNA synthetase crystal structure and design for acceptor-stem recognition.

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Skaags Institute for Chemical Biology, Departments of Molecular Biology and Chemistry, The Scripps Research Institute, BCC-379, 10550 North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA.


Early work on aminoacylation of alanine-specific tRNA (tRNA(Ala)) by alanyl-tRNA synthetase (AlaRS) gave rise to the concept of an early "second genetic code" imbedded in the acceptor stems of tRNAs. A single conserved and position-specific G:U base pair in the tRNA acceptor stem is the key identity determinant. Further understanding has been limited due to lack of a crystal structure of the enzyme. We determined a 2.14 A crystal structure of the 453 amino acid catalytic fragment of Aquifex aeolicus AlaRS. It contains the catalytic domain characteristic of class II synthetases, a helical domain with a hairpin motif critical for acceptor-stem recognition, and a C-terminal domain of a mixed alpha/beta fold. Docking of tRNA(Ala) on AlaRS shows critical contacts with the three domains, consistent with previous mutagenesis and functional data. It also suggests conformational flexibility within the C domain, which might allow for the positional variation of the key G:U base pair seen in some tRNA(Ala)s.

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