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Mol Cell Proteomics. 2013 Jan;12(1):14-28. doi: 10.1074/mcp.M112.019075. Epub 2012 Sep 23.

N-terminal protein processing: a comparative proteogenomic analysis.

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  • 1Bioinformatics Program, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, California, USA.


N-terminal methionine excision (NME) and N-terminal acetylation (NTA) are two of the most common protein post-translational modifications. NME is a universally conserved activity and a highly specific mechanism across all life forms. NTA is very common in eukaryotes but occurs rarely in prokaryotes. By analyzing data sets from yeast, mammals and bacteria (including 112 million spectra from 57 bacterial species), the largest comparative proteogenomics study to date, it is shown that previous assumptions/perceptions about the specificity and purposes of NME are not entirely correct. Although NME, through the universal enzymatic specificity of the methionine aminopeptidases, results in the removal of the initiator Met in proteins when the second residue is Gly, Ala, Ser, Cys, Thr, Pro, or Val, the comparative genomic analyses suggest that this specificity may vary modestly in some organisms. In addition, the functional role of NME may be primarily to expose Ala and Ser rather than all seven of these residues. Although any of this group provide "stabilizing" N termini in the N-end rule, and de facto leave the remaining 13 amino acid types that are classed as "destabilizing" (in higher eukaryotes) protected by the initiator Met, the conservation of NME-substrate proteins through evolution suggests that the other five are not crucially important for proteins with these residues in the second position. They are apparently merely inconsequential players (their function is not affected by NME) that become exposed because their side chains are smaller or comparable to those of Ala and Ser. The importance of exposing mainly two amino acids at the N terminus, i.e. Ala and Ser, is unclear but may be related to NTA or other post-translational modifications. In this regard, these analyses also reveal that NTA is more prevalent in some prokaryotes than previously appreciated.

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