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J Mol Biol. 2010 Jan 29;395(4):844-59. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2009.10.042. Epub 2009 Oct 23.

Structural analysis of cysteine S-nitrosylation: a modified acid-based motif and the emerging role of trans-nitrosylation.

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Department of Biochemistry and Redox Biology Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, NE 68588, USA.


S-Nitrosylation, the selective and reversible addition of nitric oxide (NO) moiety to cysteine (Cys) sulfur in proteins, regulates numerous cellular processes. In recent years, proteomic approaches that are capable of identifying nitrosylated Cys residues have been developed. However, the features underlying the specificity of Cys modification with NO remain poorly defined. Previous studies suggested that S-nitrosylated Cys may be flanked by an acid-base motif or hydrophobic areas and show high reactivity, low pK(a), and high sulfur atom exposure. In the current study, we prepared an extensive, manually curated data set of proteins with S-nitrosothiols, accounting for a variety of biochemical functions, organisms of origin, and physiological responses to NO. Analysis of this generic NO-Cys data set revealed that proximal acid-base motif, Cys pK(a), sulfur atom exposure, and Cys conservation or hydrophobicity in the vicinity of the modified Cys do not define the specificity of S-nitrosylation. Instead, this analysis revealed a revised acid-base motif, which is located more distantly to the Cys and has its charged groups exposed. We hypothesize that, rather than being strictly used for direct activation of Cys, the modified acid-base motif is engaged in protein-protein interactions thereby contributing to trans-nitrosylation as an important and widespread mechanism for reversible modification of Cys with NO moiety. For proteins lacking the revised motif, we discuss alternative mechanisms including a potential role of nitrosoglutathione as a trans-acting agent.

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