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Science. 2009 Jul 17;325(5938):321-5. doi: 10.1126/science.1173755.

The human SepSecS-tRNASec complex reveals the mechanism of selenocysteine formation.

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Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520, USA.


Selenocysteine is the only genetically encoded amino acid in humans whose biosynthesis occurs on its cognate transfer RNA (tRNA). O-Phosphoseryl-tRNA:selenocysteinyl-tRNA synthase (SepSecS) catalyzes the final step of selenocysteine formation by a poorly understood tRNA-dependent mechanism. The crystal structure of human tRNA(Sec) in complex with SepSecS, phosphoserine, and thiophosphate, together with in vivo and in vitro enzyme assays, supports a pyridoxal phosphate-dependent mechanism of Sec-tRNA(Sec) formation. Two tRNA(Sec) molecules, with a fold distinct from other canonical tRNAs, bind to each SepSecS tetramer through their 13-base pair acceptor-TPsiC arm (where Psi indicates pseudouridine). The tRNA binding is likely to induce a conformational change in the enzyme's active site that allows a phosphoserine covalently attached to tRNA(Sec), but not free phosphoserine, to be oriented properly for the reaction to occur.

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