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Environ Health Perspect. 1985 Dec;64:139-49.

The tyrosyl free radical in ribonucleotide reductase.


The enzyme, ribonucleotide reductase, catalyses the formation of deoxyribonucleotides from ribonucleotides, a reaction essential for DNA synthesis in all living cells. The Escherichia coli ribonucleotide reductase, which is the prototype of all known eukaryotic and virus-coded enzymes, consists of two nonidentical subunits, proteins B1 and B2. The B2 subunit contains an antiferromagnetically coupled pair of ferric ions and a stable tyrosyl free radical. EPR studies show that the tyrosyl radical, formed by loss of ferric ions and a stable tyrosyl free radical. EPR studies show that the tyrosyl radical, formed by loss of an electron, has its unpaired spin density delocalized in the aromatic ring of tyrosine. Effects of iron-radical interaction indicate a relatively close proximity between the iron center and the radical. The EPR signal of the radical can be studied directly in frozen packed cells of E. coli or mammalian origin, if the cells are made to overproduce ribonucleotide reductase. The hypothetic role of the tyrosyl free radical in the enzymatic reaction is not yet elucidated, except in the reaction with the inhibiting substrate analogue 2'-azido-CDP. In this case, the normal tyrosyl radical is destroyed with concomitant appearance of a 2'-azido-CDP-localized radical intermediate. Attempts at spin trapping of radical reaction intermediates have turned out negative. In E. coli the activity of ribonucleotide reductase may be regulated by enzymatic activities that interconvert a nonradical containing form and the fully active protein B2. In synchronized mammalian cells, however, the cell cycle variation of ribonucleotide reductase, studied by EPR, was shown to be due to de novo protein synthesis. Inhibitors of ribonucleotide reductase are of medical interest because of their ability to control DNA synthesis. One example is hydroxyurea, used in cancer therapy, which selectively destroys the tyrosyl free radical.

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