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J Am Chem Soc. 2018 Jul 18;140(28):8807-8816. doi: 10.1021/jacs.8b04603. Epub 2018 Jul 9.

Site-Specific Incorporation of Selenocysteine Using an Expanded Genetic Code and Palladium-Mediated Chemical Deprotection.

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University of California, San Francisco , Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry , 555 Mission Bay Boulevard South , San Francisco , California 94158 , United States.
Hangzhou Research Institute of Technical Institute of Physics and Chemistry , Chinese Academy of Sciences , Hangzhou 310018 , China.
University of Delaware , Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry , Newark , Delaware 19716 , United States.
Department of Chemistry and Center for Therapeutics and Diagnostics , Georgia State University , Atlanta , Georgia 30302 , United States.


Selenoproteins containing the 21st amino acid selenocysteine (Sec) exist in all three kingdoms of life and play essential roles in human health and development. The distinct low p Ka, high reactivity, and redox property of Sec also afford unique routes to protein modification and engineering. However, natural Sec incorporation requires idiosyncratic translational machineries that are dedicated to Sec and species-dependent, which makes it challenging to recombinantly prepare selenoproteins with high Sec specificity. As a consequence, the function of half of human selenoproteins remains unclear, and Sec-based protein manipulation has been greatly hampered. Here we report a new general method enabling the site-specific incorporation of Sec into proteins in E. coli. An orthogonal tRNAPyl-ASecRS was evolved to specifically incorporate Se-allyl selenocysteine (ASec) in response to the amber codon, and the incorporated ASec was converted to Sec in high efficiency through palladium-mediated cleavage under mild conditions compatible with proteins and cells. This approach completely obviates the natural Sec-dedicated factors, thus allowing various selenoproteins, regardless of Sec position and species source, to be prepared with high Sec specificity and enzyme activity, as shown by the preparation of human thioredoxin and glutathione peroxidase 1. Sec-selective labeling in the presence of Cys was also demonstrated on the surface of live E. coli cells. The tRNAPyl-ASecRS pair was further used in mammalian cells to incorporate ASec, which was converted into Sec by palladium catalyst in cellulo. This robust and versatile method should greatly facilitate the study of diverse natural selenoproteins and the engineering of proteins in general via site-specific introduction of Sec.

[Available on 2019-07-18]

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