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Biochem J. 2009 Dec 10;424(3):467-78. doi: 10.1042/BJ20090999.

Convergent evolution of coenzyme M biosynthesis in the Methanosarcinales: cysteate synthase evolved from an ancestral threonine synthase.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712, USA.


The euryarchaeon Methanosarcina acetivorans has no homologues of the first three enzymes that produce the essential methanogenic coenzyme M (2-mercaptoethanesulfonate) in Methanocaldococcus jannaschii. A single M. acetivorans gene was heterologously expressed to produce a functional sulfopyruvate decarboxylase protein, the fourth canonical enzyme in this biosynthetic pathway. An adjacent gene, at locus MA3297, encodes one of the organism's two threonine synthase homologues. When both paralogues from this organism were expressed in an Escherichia coli threonine synthase mutant, the MA1610 gene complemented the thrC mutation, whereas the MA3297 gene did not. Both PLP (pyridoxal 5'-phosphate)-dependent proteins were heterologously expressed and purified, but only the MA1610 protein catalysed the canonical threonine synthase reaction. The MA3297 protein specifically catalysed a new beta-replacement reaction that converted L-phosphoserine and sulfite into L-cysteate and inorganic phosphate. This oxygen-independent mode of sulfonate biosynthesis exploits the facile nucleophilic addition of sulfite to an alpha,beta-unsaturated intermediate (PLP-bound dehydroalanine). An amino acid sequence comparison indicates that cysteate synthase evolved from an ancestral threonine synthase through gene duplication, and the remodelling of active site loop regions by amino acid insertion and substitutions. The cysteate product can be converted into sulfopyruvate by an aspartate aminotransferase enzyme, establishing a new convergent pathway for coenzyme M biosynthesis that appears to function in members of the orders Methanosarcinales and Methanomicrobiales. These differences in coenzyme M biosynthesis afford the opportunity to develop methanogen inhibitors that discriminate between the classes of methanogenic archaea.

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