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Proteins. 2010 Jun;78(8):1926-38. doi: 10.1002/prot.22706.

Steric and thermodynamic limits of design for the incorporation of large unnatural amino acids in aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase enzymes.

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Department of Chemistry, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, USA.


Orthogonal aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase/tRNA pairs from archaea have been evolved to facilitate site specific in vivo incorporation of unnatural amino acids into proteins in Escherichia coli. Using this approach, unnatural amino acids have been successfully incorporated with high translational efficiency and fidelity. In this study, CHARMM-based molecular docking and free energy calculations were used to evaluate rational design of specific protein-ligand interactions for aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases. A series of novel unnatural amino acid ligands were docked into the p-benzoyl-L-phenylalanine tRNA synthetase, which revealed that the binding pocket of the enzyme does not provide sufficient space for significantly larger ligands. Specific binding site residues were mutated to alanine to create additional space to accommodate larger target ligands, and then mutations were introduced to improve binding free energy. This approach was used to redesign binding sites for several different target ligands, which were then tested against the standard 20 amino acids to verify target specificity. Only the synthetase designed to bind Man-alpha-O-Tyr was predicted to be sufficiently selective for the target ligand and also thermodynamically stable. Our study suggests that extensive redesign of the tRNA synthatase binding pocket for large bulky ligands may be quite thermodynamically unfavorable.

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