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J Mol Biol. 1991 Apr 5;218(3):557-68.

Structure and evolution of a group of related aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027.


A yeast nuclear gene, designated MSK1, has been selected from a yeast genomic library by transformation of a respiratory deficient mutant impaired in acylation of mitochondrial lysine tRNA. This gene confers a respiratory competent phenotype and restores the mutant's ability to acylate the mitochondrial lysine tRNA. The amino acid sequence of the protein encoded by MSK1 is homologous to yeast cytoplasmic lysyl-tRNA synthetase and to the product of the herC gene, which has recently been suggested to code for the Escherichia coli enzyme. These observations indicate that MSK1 codes for the lysyl-tRNA synthetase of yeast mitochondria. Several regions of high primary sequence conservation have been identified in the bacterial and yeast lysyl-tRNA synthetases. These domains are also present in the aspartyl- and asparaginyl-tRNA synthetases, further confirming the notion that all three present-day enzymes originated from a common ancestral gene. The most conserved domain, located near the carboxyl terminal ends of this group of synthetases is characterized by a cluster of glycines and is also highly homologous to the carboxyl-terminal region of the E. coli ammonia-dependent asparagine synthetase. A catalytic function of the carboxyl terminal domain is indicated by in vitro mutagenesis of the yeast mitochondrial lysyl-tRNA synthetase. Replacement of any one of three glycine residues by alanine and in one case by aspartic acid completely suppresses the activity of the enzymes, as evidenced by the inability of the mutant genes to complement an msk1 mutant, even when present in high copy. Other mutations result in partial loss of activity. Only one glycine replacement affects the stability of the protein in vivo. The observed presence of a homologous domain in asparagine synthetase, which, like the aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases, catalyzes the formation of an aminoacyladenylate, suggests that the glycine-rich sequence is part of a catalytic site involved in binding of ATP and of the aminoacyladenylate intermediate.

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