Maf (for multicopy associated filamentation) proteins represent a large family of conserved proteins implicated in cell division arrest but whose biochemical activity remains unknown. Here, we show that the prokaryotic and eukaryotic Maf proteins exhibit nucleotide pyrophosphatase activity against 5-methyl-UTP, pseudo-UTP, 5-methyl-CTP, and 7-methyl-GTP, which represent the most abundant modified bases in all organisms, as well as against canonical nucleotides dTTP, UTP, and CTP. Overexpression of the Maf protein YhdE in E. coli cells increased intracellular levels of dTMP and UMP, confirming that dTTP and UTP are the in vivo substrates of this protein. Crystal structures and site-directed mutagenesis of Maf proteins revealed the determinants of their activity and substrate specificity. Thus, pyrophosphatase activity of Maf proteins toward canonical and modified nucleotides might provide the molecular mechanism for a dual role of these proteins in cell division arrest and house cleaning.
•Maf proteins represent a family of nucleoside triphosphate pyrophosphatases•Maf proteins hydrolyze the canonical nucleotides dTTP, UTP, and CTP•Maf proteins are also active against m5UTP, m5CTP, pseudo-UTP, and m7GTP•Maf structures reveal the molecular mechanisms of their substrate selectivity
Tchigvintsev et al. show that Maf proteins are a family of nucleotide pyrophosphatases active against both canonical and modified nucleotides. This suggests that Mafs might have a dual role in cell division and in the prevention of the incorporation of modified nucleotides into cellular nucleic acids.