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J Biol Chem. 2008 May 9;283(19):13388-97. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M800746200. Epub 2008 Mar 10.

The mechanism of autocatalytic activation of plant-type L-asparaginases.

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  • 1Department of Crystallography, Faculty of Chemistry, A. Mickiewicz University, Poznan 60-780, Poland.


Plant l-asparaginases and their bacterial homologs, such as EcAIII found in Escherichia coli, form a subgroup of the N-terminal nucleophile (Ntn)-hydrolase family. In common with all Ntn-hydrolases, they are expressed as inactive precursors that undergo activation in an autocatalytic manner. The maturation process involves intramolecular hydrolysis of a single peptide bond, leading to the formation of two subunits (alpha and beta) folded as one structural domain, with the nucleophilic Thr residue located at the freed N terminus of subunit beta. The mechanism of the autocleavage reaction remains obscure. We have determined the crystal structure of an active site mutant of EcAIII, with the catalytic Thr residue substituted by Ala (T179A). The modification has led to a correctly folded but unprocessed molecule, revealing the geometry and molecular environment of the scissile peptide bond. The autocatalytic reaction is analyzed from the point of view of the Thr(179) side chain rotation, identification of a potential general base residue, and the architecture of the oxyanion hole.

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