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J Struct Biol. 2008 May;162(2):205-18. doi: 10.1016/j.jsb.2007.12.006. Epub 2008 Jan 1.

Anatomy of the E2 ligase fold: implications for enzymology and evolution of ubiquitin/Ub-like protein conjugation.

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


The configuration of the active site of E2 ligases, central enzymes in the ubiquitin/ubiquitin-like protein (Ub/Ubl) conjugation systems, has long puzzled researchers. Taking advantage of the wealth of newly available structures and sequences of E2s from diverse organisms, we performed a large-scale comparative analysis of these proteins. As a result we identified a previously under-appreciated diversity in the active site of these enzymes, in particular, the spatial location of the catalytic cysteine and a constellation of associated conserved residues that potentially contributes to catalysis. We observed structural innovations of differing magnitudes occurring in various families across the E2 fold that might correlate in part with differences in target interaction. A key finding was the independent emergence on multiple occasions of a polar residue, often a histidine, in the vicinity of the catalytic cysteine in different E2 families. We propose that these convergently emerging polar residues have a common function, such as in the stabilization of oxyanion holes during Ub/Ubl transfer and spatial localization of the Ub/Ubl tails in the active site. Thus, the E2 ligases represent a rare example in enzyme evolution of high structural diversity of the active site and position of the catalytic residue despite all characterized members catalyzing a similar reaction. Our studies also indicated certain evolutionarily conserved features in all active members of the E2 superfamily that stabilize the unusual flap-like structure in the fold. These features are likely to form a critical mechanical element of the fold required for catalysis. The results presented here could aid in new experiments to understand E2 catalysis.

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