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Nucleic Acids Res. 2008 Apr;36(6):1813-25. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkn015. Epub 2008 Feb 5.

From one amino acid to another: tRNA-dependent amino acid biosynthesis.

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Department of Molecular Biophysics, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520-8114, USA.


Aminoacyl-tRNAs (aa-tRNAs) are the essential substrates for translation. Most aa-tRNAs are formed by direct aminoacylation of tRNA catalyzed by aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases. However, a smaller number of aa-tRNAs (Asn-tRNA, Gln-tRNA, Cys-tRNA and Sec-tRNA) are made by synthesizing the amino acid on the tRNA by first attaching a non-cognate amino acid to the tRNA, which is then converted to the cognate one catalyzed by tRNA-dependent modifying enzymes. Asn-tRNA or Gln-tRNA formation in most prokaryotes requires amidation of Asp-tRNA or Glu-tRNA by amidotransferases that couple an amidase or an asparaginase to liberate ammonia with a tRNA-dependent kinase. Both archaeal and eukaryotic Sec-tRNA biosynthesis and Cys-tRNA synthesis in methanogens require O-phosophoseryl-tRNA formation. For tRNA-dependent Cys biosynthesis, O-phosphoseryl-tRNA synthetase directly attaches the amino acid to the tRNA which is then converted to Cys by Sep-tRNA: Cys-tRNA synthase. In Sec-tRNA synthesis, O-phosphoseryl-tRNA kinase phosphorylates Ser-tRNA to form the intermediate which is then modified to Sec-tRNA by Sep-tRNA:Sec-tRNA synthase. Complex formation between enzymes in the same pathway may protect the fidelity of protein synthesis. How these tRNA-dependent amino acid biosynthetic routes are integrated into overall metabolism may explain why they are still retained in so many organisms.

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