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Biochemistry. 2009 Jul 7;48(26):6213-23. doi: 10.1021/bi802146w.

No selenium required: reactions catalyzed by mammalian thioredoxin reductase that are independent of a selenocysteine residue.

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Department of Biochemistry, University of Vermont, 89 Beaumont Avenue, Given Building Room B413, Burlington, Vermont 05405, USA.


Mammalian thioredoxin reductase (TR) contains a rare selenocysteine (Sec) residue in a conserved redox-active tetrapeptide of sequence Gly-Cys(1)-Sec(2)-Gly. The high chemical reactivity of the Sec residue is thought to confer broad substrate specificity to the enzyme. In addition to utilizing thioredoxin (Trx) as a substrate, other substrates are protein disulfide isomerase, glutaredoxin, glutathione peroxidase, NK-lysin/granulysin, HIV Tat protein, H(2)O(2), lipid hydroperoxides, vitamin K, ubiquinone, juglone, ninhydrin, alloxan, dehydroascorbate, DTNB, lipoic acid/lipoamide, S-nitrosoglutathione, selenodiglutathione, selenite, methylseleninate, and selenocystine. Here we show that the Cys(2) mutant enzyme or the N-terminal reaction center alone can reduce Se-containing substrates selenocystine and selenite with only slightly less activity than the wild-type enzyme, in stark contrast to when Trx is used as the substrate when the enzyme suffers a 175-550-fold reduction in k(cat). Our data support the use of alternative mechanistic pathways for the Se-containing substrates that bypass a critical ring-forming step when Trx is the substrate. We also show that lipoic acid can be reduced through a Sec-independent mechanism that involves the N-terminal reaction center. These results show that the broad substrate specificity of the mammalian enzyme is not due to the presence of the rare Sec residue but is due to the catalytic power of the N-terminal reaction center. We hypothesize that the N-terminal reaction center can reduce substrates (i) with good leaving groups such as DTNB, (ii) that are highly electrophilic such as selenite, or (iii) that are activated by strain such as lipoic acid/lipoamide. We also show that the absence of Sec only changed the IC(50) for aurothioglucose by a factor of 1.7 in the full-length mammalian enzyme (83-142 nM), but surprisingly the truncated enzyme showed much stronger inhibition (25 nM). This contrasts with auranofin, where the absence of Sec more strongly perturbed inhibition.

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