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Steroids. 1997 Jan;62(1):101-11.

Structure and function of 3 alpha-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia 19104-6084, USA.


Mammalian 3 alpha-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenases (3 alpha-HSDs) inactivate circulating steroid hormones, and in target tissues regulate the occupancy of steroid hormone receptors. Molecular cloning indicates that 3 alpha-HSDs are members of the aldo-keto reductase (AKR) superfamily and display high sequence identity (> 60%). Of these, the most extensively characterized is rat liver 3 alpha-HSD. X-ray crystal structures of the apoenzyme and the E.NADP+ complex have been determined and serve as structural templates for other 3 alpha-HSDs. These structures reveal that rat liver 3 alpha-HSD adopts an (alpha/beta)8-barrel protein fold. NAD(P)(H) lies perpendicular to the barrel axis in an extended conformation, with the nicotinamide ring at the core of the barrel, and the adenine ring at the periphery of the structure. The nicotinamide ring is stabilized by interaction with Y216, S166, D167, and Q190, so that the A-face points into the vacant active site. The 4-pro-(R) hydrogen transferred in the oxidoreduction of steroids is in close proximity to a catalytic tetrad that consists of D50, Y55, K84, and H117. A water molecule is within hydrogen bond distance of H117 and Y55, and its position may mimic the position of the carbonyl of a 3-ketosteroid substrate. The catalytic tetrad is conserved in members of the AKR superfamily and resides at the base of an apolar cleft implicated in binding steroid hormone. The apolar cleft consists of a side of apolar residues (L54, W86, F128, and F129), and opposing this side is a flexible loop that contains W227. These constraints suggest that the alpha-face of the steroid would orient itself along that side of the cleft containing W86. Site-directed mutagenesis of the catalytic tetrad indicates that Y55 and K84 are essential for catalysis. Y55S and Y55F mutants are catalytically inactive, but still form binary (E.NADPH) and ternary (E.NADH.Testosterone) complexes; by contrast K84R and K84M mutants are catalytically inactive, but do not bind steroid hormone. The reliance on a Tyr/Lys pair is reminiscent of catalytic mechanisms proposed for other AKR members as well as for HSDs that belong to the short-chain dehydrogenase/reductase (SDR) family, in which Tyr is the general acid, with its pKa being lowered by Lys. Superimposition of the nicotinamide rings in the structures of 3 alpha-HSD (an AKR) and 3 alpha, 20 beta-HSD (an SDR) show that the Tyr/Lys pairs are positionally conserved, suggesting convergent evolution across protein families to a common mechanism for HSD catalysis. W86Y and W227Y mutants bind testosterone to the E.NADH complex, with effective increases in Kd of 8- and 20-fold. These data provide the first evidence that the side of the apolar cleft containing W86 and the opposing flexible loop containing W227 are parts of the steroid-binding site. Detailed mutagenesis studies of the apolar cleft and elucidation of a ternary complex structure will ultimately provide details of the determinants that govern steroid hormone recognition. These determinants could provide a rational basis for structure-based inhibitor design.

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