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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1996 May 28;93(11):5595-9.

Pea formaldehyde-active class III alcohol dehydrogenase: common derivation of the plant and animal forms but not of the corresponding ethanol-active forms (classes I and P).

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Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.


A plant class III alcohol dehydrogenase (or glutathione-dependent formaldehyde dehydrogenase) has been characterized. The enzyme is a typical class III member with enzymatic parameters and substrate specificity closely related to those of already established animal forms. Km values with the pea enzyme are 6.5 microM for NAD+, 2 microM for S-hydroxymethylglutathione, and 840 microM for octanol versus 9, 4, and 1200 microM, respectively, with the human enzyme. Structurally, the pea/human class III enzymes are closely related, exhibiting a residue identity of 69% and with only 3 of 23 residues differing among those often considered in substrate and coenzyme binding. In contrast, the corresponding ethanol-active enzymes, the long-known human liver and pea alcohol dehydrogenases, differ more (47% residue identities) and are also in functionally important active site segments, with 12 of the 23 positions exchanged, including no less than 7 at the usually much conserved coenzyme-binding segment. These differences affect functionally important residues that are often class-distinguishing, such as those at positions 48, 51, and 115, where the plant ethanol-active forms resemble class III (Thr, Tyr, and Arg, respectively) rather than the animal ethanol-active class I forms (typically Ser, His, and Asp, respectively). Calculations of phylogenetic trees support the conclusions from functional residues in subgrouping plant ethanol-active dehydrogenases and the animal ethanol-active enzymes (class I) as separate descendants from the class III line. It appears that the classical plant alcohol dehydrogenases (now called class P) have a duplicatory origin separate from that of the animal class I enzymes and therefore a paralogous relationship with functional convergence of their alcohol substrate specificity. Combined, the results establish the conserved nature of class III also in plants, and contribute to the molecular and functional understanding of alcohol dehydrogenases by defining two branches of plant enzymes into the system.

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