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J Mol Biol. 2006 Feb 24;356(3):823-42. Epub 2005 Dec 1.

Diversification of catalytic activities and ligand interactions in the protein fold shared by the sugar isomerases, eIF2B, DeoR transcription factors, acyl-CoA transferases and methenyltetrahydrofolate synthetase.

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  • 1National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20894, USA.


Evolution of diverse catalytic and ligand-binding activities in a given protein fold is a widely observed phenomenon in the protein-domain universe. However, the details of this evolutionary process, general principles, if any, and implications for origins of particular catalytic mechanisms are poorly understood in many common protein folds. Taking advantage of the wealth of currently available protein structure and sequence data, we explore these issues in the context of a large assemblage of biochemically diverse protein domains sharing a common origin, namely the sugar isomerases, translation factor eIF2B, ligand-binding domains of the DeoR-family transcription factors, acetyl-CoA transferases and methenyltetrahydrofolate synthetase. We show that in at least three independent instances, including the sugar-binding domains of the DeoR family transcription factors, this domain has been used as small molecule sensor coupled to helix-turn-helix DNA-binding domains. In at least two of these instances the domain functions as a non-catalytic sensor of ligands. We provide evidence that the ancestral version of this fold was a distinct version of the Rosmann-like folds, which probably possessed two distinct ligand-binding areas that were differentially utilized in different descendents. Analyzing the sequences and structures of proteins in this fold we show that there are two principal factors related to the origin of catalytic diversity in this fold. Firstly, specific inserts and extension added to the core domain on multiple occasions in evolution have affected the access to the active site regions, and thereby allowed for different substrates and allosteric regulators. The second major factor appears to be the emergence of considerable diversity of family-specific residues with important biochemical roles. Interestingly, proteins of this fold, which catalyze similar reactions on similar substrates, might possess very distinctive sets of active residues required for substrate binding catalysis. In particular, different sugar isomerases or acyl transferases in this fold might show distinct constellations of active site residues. These findings suggest that whereas ligand-binding, and even generic catalytic ability emerged early in the evolution of the fold, the specific catalytic mechanisms appear to have independently emerged on multiple occasions in the generic precursors of this fold.

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