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1.  Structure of the prolyl-tRNA synthetase from the eukaryotic pathogen Giardia lamblia  
The structure of Giardia prolyl-tRNA synthetase cocrystallized with proline and ATP shows evidence for half-of-the-sites activity, leading to a corresponding mixture of reaction substrates and product (prolyl-AMP) in the two active sites of the dimer.
The genome of the human intestinal parasite Giardia lamblia contains only a single aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase gene for each amino acid. The Giardia prolyl-tRNA synthetase gene product was originally misidentified as a dual-specificity Pro/Cys enzyme, in part owing to its unexpectedly high off-target activation of cysteine, but is now believed to be a normal representative of the class of archaeal/eukaryotic prolyl-tRNA synthetases. The 2.2 Å resolution crystal structure of the G. lamblia enzyme presented here is thus the first structure determination of a prolyl-tRNA synthetase from a eukaryote. The relative occupancies of substrate (proline) and product (prolyl-AMP) in the active site are consistent with half-of-the-sites reactivity, as is the observed biphasic thermal denaturation curve for the protein in the presence of proline and MgATP. However, no corresponding induced asymmetry is evident in the structure of the protein. No thermal stabilization is observed in the presence of cysteine and ATP. The implied low affinity for the off-target activation product cysteinyl-AMP suggests that translational fidelity in Giardia is aided by the rapid release of misactivated cysteine.
PMCID: PMC3489102  PMID: 22948920
aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases; protozoa; structural genomics; Giardia lamblia
2.  The double-length tyrosyl-tRNA synthetase from the eukaryote Leishmania major forms an intrinsically asymmetric pseudo-dimer 
Journal of molecular biology  2011;409(2):159-176.
The single tyrosyl tRNA-synthetase (TyrRS) gene in trypanosomatid genomes codes for a protein that is twice the length of TyrRS from virtually all other organisms. Each half of the double-length TyrRS contains a catalytic domain and an anticodon-binding domain, however the two halves retain only 17% sequence identity to each other. The structural and functional consequences of this duplication and divergence are unclear. TyrRS normally forms a homodimer in which the active site of one monomer pairs with the anticodon-binding domain from the other. However, crystal structures of Leishmania major TyrRS show that instead the two halves of a single molecule form a pseudo-dimer resembling the canonical TyrRS dimer. Curiously, the C-terminal copy of the catalytic domain has lost the catalytically important HIGH and KMSKS motifs characteristic of Class I aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases. Thus the pseudo-dimer contains only one functional active site, contributed by the N-terminal half, and only one functional anticodon recognition site, contributed by the C-terminal half. Despite biochemical evidence for negative cooperativity between the two active sites of the usual TyrRS homodimer, previous structures have captured a crystallographically-imposed symmetric state. As the L. major TyrRS pseudo-dimer is inherently asymmetric, conformational variations observed near the active site may be relevant to understanding how the state of a single active site is communicated across the dimer interface. Furthermore, substantial differences between trypanosomal TyrRS and human homologs are promising for the design of inhibitors that selectively target the parasite enzyme.
PMCID: PMC3095712  PMID: 21420975
aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase; protozoa; drug target; tropical disease
3.  Crystal structures of three protozoan homologs of tryptophanyl-tRNA synthetase 
Tryptophanyl-tRNA synthetase (TrpRS) is an essential enzyme that is recognizably conserved across all forms of life. It is responsible for activating and attaching tryptophan to a cognate tRNATrp molecule for use in protein synthesis. In some eukaryotes this original core function has been supplemented or modified through the addition of extra domains or the expression of variant TrpRS isoforms. The three TrpRS structures from pathogenic protozoa described here represent three illustrations of this malleability in eukaryotes. The Cryptosporidium parvum genome contains a single TrpRS gene, which codes for an N-terminal domain of uncertain function in addition to the conserved core TrpRS domains. Sequence analysis indicates that this extra domain, conserved among several apicomplexans, is related to the editing domain of some AlaRS and ThrRS. The C. parvum enzyme remains fully active in charging tRNATrp after truncation of this extra domain. The crystal structure of the active, truncated enzyme is presented here at 2.4 Å resolution. The Trypanosoma brucei genome contains separate cytosolic and mitochondrial isoforms of TrpRS that have diverged in their respective tRNA recognition domains. The crystal structure of the T. brucei cytosolic isoform is presented here at 2.8 Å resolution. The Entamoeba histolytica genome contains three sequences that appear to be TrpRS homologs. However one of these, whose structure is presented here at 3.0 Å resolution, has lost the active site motifs characteristic of the Class I aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase catalytic domain while retaining the conserved features of a fully formed tRNATrp recognition domain. The biological function of this variant E. histolytica TrpRS remains unknown, but, on the basis of a completely conserved tRNA recognition region and evidence for ATP but not tryptophan binding, it is tempting to speculate that it may perform an editing function. Together with a previously reported structure of an unusual TrpRS from Giardia, these protozoan structures broaden our perspective on the extent of structural variation found in eukaryotic TrpRS homologs.
PMCID: PMC3066001  PMID: 21255615
aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase
4.  Structure Determination of Glycogen Synthase Kinase-3 from Leishmania major and Comparative Inhibitor Structure-Activity Relationships with Trypanosoma brucei GSK-3 
Glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK-3) is a drug target under intense investigation in pharmaceutical companies and constitutes an attractive piggyback target for eukaryotic pathogens. Two different GSKs are found in trypanosomatids, one about 150 residues shorter than the other. GSK-3 short (GeneDB: Tb927.10.13780) has previously been validated genetically as a drug target in Trypanosoma brucei by RNAi induced growth retardation; and chemically by correlation between enzyme and in vitro growth inhibition. Here, we report investigation of the equivalent GSK-3 short enzymes of L. major (LmjF18.0270) and L. infantum (LinJ18_V3.0270, identical in amino acid sequences to LdonGSK-3 short) and a crystal structure of LmajGSK-3 short at 2 Å resolution. The inhibitor structure-activity relationships (SARs) of L. major and L. infantum are virtually identical, suggesting that inhibitors could be useful for both cutaneous and visceral leishmaniasis. Leishmania spp. GSK-3 short has different inhibitor SARs than TbruGSK-3 short, which can be explained mostly by two variant residues in the ATP-binding pocket. Indeed, mutating these residues in the ATP-binding site of LmajGSK-3 short to the TbruGSK-3 short equivalents results in a mutant LmajGSK-3 short enzyme with SAR more similar to that of TbruGSK-3 short. The differences between human GSK-3β (HsGSK-3β) and LmajGSK-3 short SAR suggest that compounds which selectively inhibit LmajGSK-3 short may be found.
PMCID: PMC3045540  PMID: 21195115
Glycogen synthase kinase-3; Leishmania spp.; Trypanosoma brucei; African sleeping sickness; drug development; protein kinase
5.  Structure of Leishmania major Methionyl-tRNA Synthetase in Complex with Intermediate Products Methionyladenylate and Pyrophosphate 
Biochimie  2010;93(3):570-582.
Leishmania parasites cause two million new cases of leishmaniasis each year with several hundreds of millions people at risk. Due to the paucity and shortcomings of available drugs, we have undertaken the crystal structure determination of a key enzyme from Leishmania major in hopes of creating a platform for the rational design of new therapeutics. Crystals of the catalytic core of methionyl-tRNA synthetase from L. major (LmMetRS) were obtained with the substrates MgATP and methionine present in the crystallization medium. These crystals yielded the 2.0 Å resolution structure of LmMetRS in complex with two products, methionyladenylate and pyrophosphate, along with a Mg2+ ion that bridges them. This is the first class I aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase (aaRS) structure with pyrophosphate bound. The residues of the class I aaRS signature sequence motifs, KISKS and HIGH, make numerous contacts with the pyrophosphate. Substantial differences between the LmMetRS structure and previously reported complexes of E. coli MetRS (EcMetRS) with analogs of the methionyladenylate intermediate product are observed, even though one of these analogs only differs by one atom from the intermediate. The source of these structural differences is attributed to the presence of the product pyrophosphate in LmMetRS. Analysis of the LmMetRS structure in light of the Aquifex aeolicus MetRS-tRNAMet complex shows that major rearrangements of multiple structural elements of enzyme and/or tRNA are required to allow the CCA acceptor triplet to reach the methionyladenylate intermediate in the active site. Comparison with sequences of human cytosolic and mitochondrial MetRS reveals interesting differences near the ATP- and methionine-binding regions of LmMetRS, suggesting that it should be possible to obtain compounds that selectively inhibit the parasite enzyme.
PMCID: PMC3039092  PMID: 21144880
aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase; protozoa; drug target; leishmaniasis; trypanosomiasis; enzyme product complex
6.  Use of thermal melt curves to assess the quality of enzyme preparations1 
Analytical Biochemistry  2009;399(2):268-275.
This study sought to determine whether the quality of enzyme preparations can be determined from their melting curves, which may easily be obtained using a fluorescent probe and a standard RT-PCR machine. Thermal melt data on 31 recombinant enzymes from Plasmodium parasites were acquired by incrementally heating them to 90 °C and measuring unfolding with a fluorescent dye; activity assays specific to each enzyme were also performed. Four of the enzymes were denatured to varying degrees with heat and SDS prior to the thermal melt and activity assays. In general, melting curve quality correlated with enzyme activity; enzymes with high-quality curves were found almost uniformly to be active, while those with lower-quality curves were more varied in their catalytic performance. Inspection of melting curves of bovine xanthine oxidase and Entamoeba histolytica cysteine protease 1 allowed active stocks to be distinguished from inactive stocks, implying that a relationship between melting curve quality and activity persists over a wide range of experimental conditions and species. Our data suggest that melting curves can help to distinguish properly folded proteins from denatured ones and therefore may be useful in selecting stocks for further study and in optimizing purification procedures for specific proteins.
PMCID: PMC3270315  PMID: 20018159
thermal melting; malaria; protein denaturation
7.  Identification of inhibitors for putative malaria drug targets amongst novel antimalarial compounds 
The efficacy of most marketed antimalarial drugs has been compromised by evolution of parasite resistance, underscoring an urgent need to find new drugs with new mechanisms of action. We have taken a high-throughput approach toward identifying novel antimalarial chemical inhibitors of prioritized drug targets for P. falciparum, excluding targets which are inhibited by currently used drugs. A screen of commercially available libraries identified 5,655 low molecular weight compounds that inhibit growth of P. falciparum cultures with EC50 values below 1.25 μM. These compounds were then tested in 384- or 1536-well biochemical assays for activity against nine Plasmodium enzymes: adenylosuccinate synthetase (AdSS), choline kinase (CK), deoxyuridine triphosphate nucleotidohydrolase (dUTPase), glutamate dehydrogenase (GDH), guanylate kinase (GK), N-myristoyltransferase (NMT), orotidine 5′-monophosphate decarboxylase (OMPDC), farnesyl pyrophosphate synthase (FPPS) and S-adenosylhomocysteine hydrolase (SAHH). These enzymes were selected using, and are believed to have excellent potential as drug targets based on criteria such as their likely essentiality, druggability, and amenability to high-throughput biochemical screening. Six of these targets were inhibited by one or more of the antimalarial scaffolds and may have potential use in drug development, further target validation studies and exploration of P. falciparum biochemistry and biology.
PMCID: PMC3108854  PMID: 20813141
target-based drug development; enzyme activity assays; antimalarial compounds
8.  Selective Inhibitors of Methionyl-tRNA Synthetase Have Potent Activity against Trypanosoma brucei Infection in Mice▿† 
Human African trypanosomiasis continues to be an important public health threat in extensive regions of sub-Saharan Africa. Treatment options for infected patients are unsatisfactory due to toxicity, difficult administration regimes, and poor efficacy of available drugs. The aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases were selected as attractive drug targets due to their essential roles in protein synthesis and cell survival. Comparative sequence analysis disclosed differences between the trypanosome and mammalian methionyl-tRNA synthetases (MetRSs) that suggested opportunities for selective inhibition using drug-like molecules. Experiments using RNA interference on the single MetRS of Trypanosoma brucei demonstrated that this gene product was essential for normal cell growth. Small molecules (diaryl diamines) similar to those shown to have potent activity on prokaryotic MetRS enzymes were synthesized and observed to have inhibitory activity on the T. brucei MetRS (50% inhibitory concentration, <50 nM) and on bloodstream forms of T. brucei cultures (50% effective concentration, as low as 4 nM). Twenty-one compounds had a close correlation between enzyme binding/inhibition and T. brucei growth inhibition, indicating that they were likely to be acting on the intended target. The compounds had minimal effects on mammalian cell growth at 20 μM, demonstrating a wide therapeutic index. The most potent compound was tested in the murine model of trypanosomiasis and demonstrated profound parasite suppression and delayed mortality. A homology model of the T. brucei MetRS based on other MetRS structures was used to model binding of the lead diaryl diamine compounds. Future studies will focus on improving the pharmacological properties of the MetRS inhibitors.
PMCID: PMC3088252  PMID: 21282428
Journal of Structural Biology  2010;171(1):64-73.
The great power of protein crystallography to reveal biological structure is often limited by the tremendous effort required to produce suitable crystals. A hybrid crystal growth predictive model is presented that combines both experimental and sequence-derived data from target proteins, including novel variables derived from physico-chemical characterization such as R30, the ratio between a protein‘s DSF intensity at 30 °C and at Tm. This hybrid model is shown to be more powerful than sequence-based prediction alone – and more likely to be useful for prioritizing and directing the efforts of structural genomics and individual structural biology laboratories.
PMCID: PMC2957526  PMID: 20347992
Crystal growth; protein characterization; thermal shift assay; dynamic light scattering; limited proteolysis; regression partition tree
10.  Structure of a Nudix hydrolase (MutT) in the Mg2+-­bound state from Bartonella henselae, the bacterium responsible for cat scratch fever 
B. henselae is the etiological agent responsible for cat scratch fever (bartonellosis). The crystal structure of the smaller of the two Nudix hydrolases encoded in the genome of B. henselae, Bh-MutT, was determined to 2.1 Å resolution.
Cat scratch fever (also known as cat scratch disease and bartonellosis) is an infectious disease caused by the proteobacterium Bartonella henselae following a cat scratch. Although the infection usually resolves spontaneously without treatment in healthy adults, bartonellosis may lead to severe complications in young children and immunocompromised patients, and there is new evidence suggesting that B. henselae may be associated with a broader range of clinical symptoms then previously believed. The genome of B. henselae contains genes for two putative Nudix hydrolases, BH02020 and BH01640 (KEGG). Nudix proteins play an important role in regulating the intracellular concentration of nucleotide cofactors and signaling molecules. The amino-acid sequence of BH02020 is similar to that of the prototypical member of the Nudix superfamily, Escherichia coli MutT, a protein that is best known for its ability to neutralize the promutagenic compound 7,8-dihydro-8-oxoguanosine triphos­phate. Here, the crystal structure of BH02020 (Bh-MutT) in the Mg2+-bound state was determined at 2.1 Å resolution (PDB entry 3hhj). As observed in all Nudix hydrolase structures, the α-helix of the highly conserved ‘Nudix box’ in Bh-­MutT is one of two helices that sandwich a four-stranded mixed β-sheet with the central two β-strands parallel to each other. The catalytically essential divalent cation observed in the Bh-MutT structure, Mg2+, is coordinated to the side chains of Glu57 and Glu61. The structure is not especially robust; a temperature melt obtained using circular dichroism spectroscopy shows that Bh-­MutT irreversibly unfolds and precipitates out of solution upon heating, with a T m of 333 K.
PMCID: PMC3169405  PMID: 21904053
Nudix hydrolases; Bartonella henselae; MutT; cat scratch fever
11.  BrabA.11339.a: anomalous diffraction and ligand binding guide towards the elucidation of the function of a ‘putative β-lactamase-like protein’ from Brucella melitensis  
The structure of a β-lactamase-like protein from B. melitensis was solved independently using two data sets with anomalous signal. Anomalous Fourier maps could confirm the identity of two metal ions in the active site. AMP-bound and GMP-bound structures provide hints to the possible function of the protein.
The crystal structure of a β-lactamase-like protein from Brucella melitensis was initially solved by SAD phasing from an in-house data set collected on a crystal soaked with iodide. A high-resolution data set was collected at a synchroton at the Se edge wavelength, which also provided an independent source of phasing using a small anomalous signal from metal ions in the active site. Comparisons of anomalous peak heights at various wavelengths allowed the identification of the active-site metal ions as manganese. In the native data set a partially occupied GMP could be identified. When co-crystallized with AMPPNP or GMPPNP, clear density for the hydrolyzed analogs was observed, providing hints to the function of the protein.
PMCID: PMC3169410  PMID: 21904058
Seattle Structural Genomics Center for Infectious Disease; iodide; SAD phasing; anomalous diffraction; Brucella melitensis; lactamase; Phn
12.  Solution structure of an arsenate reductase-related protein, YffB, from Brucella melitensis, the etiological agent responsible for brucellosis 
B. melitensis is a NIAID Category B microorganism that is responsible for brucellosis and is a potential agent for biological warfare. Here, the solution structure of the 116-residue arsenate reductase-related protein Bm-YffB (BR0369) from this organism is reported.
Brucella melitensis is the etiological agent responsible for brucellosis. Present in the B. melitensis genome is a 116-residue protein related to arsenate reductases (Bm-YffB; BR0369). Arsenate reductases (ArsC) convert arsenate ion (H2AsO4 −), a compound that is toxic to bacteria, to arsenite ion (AsO2 −), a product that may be efficiently exported out of the cell. Consequently, Bm-YffB is a potential drug target because if arsenate reduction is the protein’s major biological function then disabling the cell’s ability to reduce arsenate would make these cells more sensitive to the deleterious effects of arsenate. Size-exclusion chromatography and NMR spectroscopy indicate that Bm-YffB is a monomer in solution. The solution structure of Bm-YffB (PDB entry 2kok) shows that the protein consists of two domains: a four-stranded mixed β-sheet flanked by two α-helices on one side and an α-helical bundle. The α/β domain is characteristic of the fold of thioredoxin-like proteins and the overall structure is generally similar to those of known arsenate reductases despite the marginal sequence similarity. Chemical shift perturbation studies with 15N-labeled Bm-YffB show that the protein binds reduced glutathione at a site adjacent to a region similar to the HX 3CX 3R catalytic sequence motif that is important for arsenic detoxification activity in the classical arsenate-reductase family of proteins. The latter observation supports the hypothesis that the ArsC-YffB family of proteins may function as glutathione-dependent thiol reductases. However, comparison of the structure of Bm-YffB with the structures of proteins from the classical ArsC family suggest that the mechanism and possibly the function of Bm-YffB and other related proteins (ArsC-YffB) may differ from those of the ArsC family of proteins.
PMCID: PMC3169414  PMID: 21904062
arsenate reductases; Brucella melitensis; YffB; brucellosis
13.  Solution-state NMR structure and biophysical characterization of zinc-substituted rubredoxin B (Rv3250c) from Mycobacterium tuberculosis  
One third of the world’s human population is infected with M. tuberculosis, the etiological agent responsible for tuberculosis (TB). Here, the solution structure of the small iron-binding protein from this organism, rubredoxin B (Rv3250c), is reported in the zinc-substituted form.
Owing to the evolution of multi-drug-resistant and extremely drug-resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis strains, there is an urgent need to develop new antituberculosis strategies to prevent TB epidemics in the industrial world. Among the potential new drug targets are two small nonheme iron-binding proteins, rubredoxin A (Rv3251c) and rubredoxin B (Rv3250c), which are believed to play a role in electron-transfer processes. Here, the solution structure and biophysical properties of one of these two proteins, rubredoxin B (Mt-RubB), determined in the zinc-substituted form are reported. The zinc-substituted protein was prepared by expressing Mt-RubB in minimal medium containing excess zinc acetate. Size-exclusion chromatography and NMR spectroscopy indicated that Mt-RubB was a monomer in solution. The structure (PDB entry 2kn9) was generally similar to those of other rubredoxins, containing a three-stranded anti­parallel β-sheet (β2–β1–β3) and a metal tetrahedrally coordinated to the S atoms of four cysteine residues (Cys9, Cys12, Cys42 and Cys45). The first pair of cysteine residues is at the C-terminal end of the first β-­strand and the second pair of cysteine residues is towards the C-terminal end of the loop between β2 and β3. The structure shows the metal buried deeply within the protein, an observation that is supported by the inability to remove the metal with excess EDTA at room temperature. Circular dichroism spectroscopy shows that this stability extends to high temperature, with essentially no change being observed in the CD spectrum of Mt-RubB upon heating to 353 K.
PMCID: PMC3169417  PMID: 21904065
rubredoxin B; Mycobacterium tuberculosis; Rv3250c
14.  Expression of proteins in Escherichia coli as fusions with maltose-binding protein to rescue non-expressed targets in a high-throughput protein-expression and purification pipeline 
The rescue of protein-expression levels by cloning genes into MBP-fusion vector is described.
Despite recent advances, the expression of heterologous proteins in Escherichia coli for crystallization remains a nontrivial challenge. The present study investigates the efficacy of maltose-binding protein (MBP) fusion as a general strategy for rescuing the expression of target proteins. From a group of sequence-verified clones with undetectable levels of protein expression in an E. coli T7 expression system, 95 clones representing 16 phylogenetically diverse organisms were selected for recloning into a chimeric expression vector with an N-terminal histidine-tagged MBP. PCR-amplified inserts were annealed into an identical ligation-independent cloning region in an MBP-fusion vector and were analyzed for expression and solubility by high-throughput nickel-affinity binding. This approach yielded detectable expression of 72% of the clones; soluble expression was visible in 62%. However, the solubility of most proteins was marginal to poor upon cleavage of the MBP tag. This study offers large-scale evidence that MBP can improve the soluble expression of previously non-expressing proteins from a variety of eukaryotic and prokaryotic organisms. While the behavior of the cleaved proteins was disappointing, further refinements in MBP tagging may permit the more widespread use of MBP-fusion proteins in crystallographic studies.
PMCID: PMC3169393  PMID: 21904041
structural genomics; high throughput; maltose-binding protein; MBP fusion; protein expression; SSGCID
15.  High-throughput protein production and purification at the Seattle Structural Genomics Center for Infectious Disease 
An overview of the standard SSGCID protein-purification protocol is given and success rates and cleavage alternatives are discussed.
The establishment of an efficient and reliable protein-purification pipeline is essential for the success of structural genomic projects. The SSGCID Protein Purification Group at the University of Washington (UW-PPG) has established a robust protein-purification pipeline designed to purify 400 proteins per year at a rate of eight purifications per week. The pipeline was implemented using two ÄKTAexplorer 100s and four ÄKTAprimes to perform immobilized metal-affinity chromatography (IMAC) and size-exclusion chromatography. Purifications were completed in a period of 5 d and yielded an average of 53 mg highly purified protein. This paper provides a detailed description of the methods used to purify, characterize and store SSGCID proteins. Some of the purified proteins were treated with 3C protease, which was expressed and purified by UW-PPG using a similar protocol, to cleave non-native six-histidine tags. The cleavage was successful in 94% of 214 attempts. Cleaved proteins yielded 2.9% more structures than uncleaved six-histidine-tagged proteins. This 2.9% improvement may seem small, but over the course of the project the structure output from UW-PPG is thus predicted to increase from 260 structures to 318 structures. Therefore, the outlined protocol with 3C cleavage and subtractive IMAC has been shown to be a highly efficient method for the standardized purification of recombinant proteins for structure determination via X-ray crystallography.
PMCID: PMC3169394  PMID: 21904042
protein production; purification; immobilized metal-affinity chromatography; size-exclusion chromatography; structural genomics; 3C protease; enzymatic cleavage
16.  The structure of tryptophanyl-tRNA synthetase from Giardia lamblia reveals divergence from eukaryotic homologs 
Journal of structural biology  2010;171(2):238-243.
The 2.1 Å crystal structure of tryptophanyl-tRNA synthetase (TrpRS) from the diplomonad Giardia lamblia reveals that the N-terminus of this class I aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase forms a 16-residue α-helix. This helix replaces a β-hairpin that is required by human TrpRS for normal activity and has been inferred to play a similar role in all eukaryotic TrpRS. The primary sequences of TrpRS homologs from several basal eukaryotes including Giardia lack a set of three residues observed to stabilize interactions with this β-hairpin in the human TrpRS. Thus the present structure suggests that the activation reaction mechanism of TrpRS from the basal eukaryote G. lamblia differs from that of higher eukaryotes. Furthermore, the protein as observed in the crystal forms an (α2)2 homotetramer. The canonical dimer interface observed in all previous structures of tryptophanyl-tRNA synthetases is maintained, but in addition each N-terminal α-helix reciprocally interlocks with the equivalent helix from a second dimer to form a dimer of dimers. Although we have no evidence for tetramer formation in vivo, modeling indicates that the crystallographically observed tetrameric structure would be compatible with the tRNA binding mode used by dimeric TrpRS and TyrRS.
PMCID: PMC2885457  PMID: 20438846
aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase; protozoa; structural genomics
17.  Crystal structures of trypanosomal histidyl-tRNA synthetase illuminate differences between eukaryotic and prokaryotic homologs 
Journal of molecular biology  2010;397(2):481-494.
Crystal structures of histidyl-tRNA synthetase from the eukaryotic parasites Trypanosoma brucei and Trypanosoma cruzi provide a first structural view of a eukaryotic form of this enzyme, and reveal differences from bacterial homologs. Histidyl-tRNA synthetases in general contain an extra domain inserted between conserved motifs 2 and 3 of the Class II aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase catalytic core. The current structures show that the three dimensional topology of this domain is very different in bacterial and archaeal/eukaryotic forms of the enzyme. Comparison of apo and histidine-bound trypanosomal structures indicates substantial active site rearrangement upon histidine binding, but relatively little subsequent rearrangement after reaction of histidine with ATP to form the enzyme’s first reaction product, histidyladenylate. The specific residues involved in forming the binding pocket for the adenine moiety differ substantially both from the previously characterized binding site in bacterial structures and from the homologous residues in human histidyl-tRNA synthetases. The essentiality of the single histidyl-tRNA synthetase gene in T. brucei is shown by a severe depression of parasite growth rate that results from even partial suppression of expression by RNA interference.
PMCID: PMC2834879  PMID: 20132829
aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase; protozoa; drug target; tropical disease; RNAi
18.  The crystal structure and activity of a putative trypanosomal nucleoside phosphorylase reveal it to be a homodimeric uridine phosphorylase 
Journal of molecular biology  2010;396(5):1244-1259.
Purine nucleoside phosphorylases and uridine phosphorylases are closely related enzymes involved in purine and pyrimidine salvage, respectively, which catalyze the removal of the ribosyl moiety from nucleosides so that the nucleotide base may be recycled. Parasitic protozoa generally are incapable of de novo purine biosynthesis so the purine salvage pathway is of potential therapeutic interest. Information about pyrimidine biosynthesis in these organisms is much more limited. Though all seem to carry at least a subset of enzymes from each pathway, the dependency on de novo pyrimidine synthesis versus salvage varies from organism to organism and even from one growth stage to another. We have structurally and biochemically characterized a putative nucleoside phosphorylase from the pathogenic protozoan Trypanosoma brucei and find that it is a homodimeric uridine phosphorylase. This is the first characterization of a uridine phosphorylase from a trypanosomal source despite this activity being observed decades ago. Although this gene was broadly annotated as a putative nucleoside phosphorylase, it was widely inferred to be a purine nucleoside phosphorylase. Our characterization of this trypanosomal enzyme shows that it is possible to distinguish between purine and uridine phosphorylase activity at the sequence level based on the absence or presence of a characteristic uridine phosphorylase-specificity insert. We suggest that this recognizable feature may aid in proper annotation of the substrate specificity of enzymes in the nucleoside phosphorylase family.
PMCID: PMC2844865  PMID: 20070944
nucleoside phosphorylase; pyrimidine salvage; nucleotide metabolism; sleeping sickness; gene annotation
19.  Crystal structure of the Aspartyl-tRNA synthetase from Entamoeba histolytica 
The crystal structure of the aspartyl-tRNA synthetase from the eukaryotic parasite Entamoeba histolytica has been determined at 2.8 Å resolution. Relative to homologous sequences, the E. histolytica protein contains a 43-residue insertion between the N-terminal anticodon binding domain and the C-terminal catalytic domain. The present structure reveals that this insertion extends an arm of the hinge region that has previously been shown to mediate interaction of aspartyl-tRNA synthetase with the cognate tRNA D-stem. Modeling indicates that this Entamoeba-specific insertion is likely to increase the interaction surface with the cognate tRNAAsp. In doing so it may substitute functionally for an RNA-binding motif located in N-terminal extensions found in AspRS sequences from lower eukaryotes but absent in Entamoeba. The E. histolytica AspRS structure shows a well-ordered N-terminus that contributes to the AspRS dimer interface.
PMCID: PMC2791181  PMID: 19874856
tRNA ligase
20.  Toxoplasma gondii calcium-dependent protein kinase 1 is a target for selective kinase inhibitors 
New drugs are needed to treat toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasma gondii calcium-dependent protein kinases (TgCDPKs) are attractive targets because they are absent in mammals. We show that TgCDPK1 is inhibited by low nanomolar levels of bumped kinase inhibitors (BKIs), compounds designed to be inactive against mammalian kinases. Cocrystal structures of TgCDPK1 with BKIs confirm that the structural basis for selectivity is due to the unique glycine gatekeeper residue in the ATP-binding site at residue 128. We show that BKIs interfere with an early step in T. gondii infection of human cells in culture. Furthermore, we show that TgCDPK1 is the in vivo target of BKIs because T. gondii cells expressing a glycine to methionine gatekeeper mutant enzyme show significantly decreased sensitivity to this class of selective kinase inhibitors. Thus, design of selective TgCDPK1 inhibitors with low host toxicity may be achievable.
PMCID: PMC2896873  PMID: 20436472
21.  X-Ray Structure determination of the Glycine Cleavage System Protein H of Mycobacterium tuberculosis Using An Inverse Compton Synchrotron X-Ray Source 
Structural genomics discovery projects require ready access to both X-ray and NMR instrumentation which support the collection of experimental data needed to solve large numbers of novel protein structures. The most productive X-ray crystal structure determination laboratories make extensive frequent use of tunable synchrotron X-ray light to solve novel structures by anomalous diffraction methods. This requires that frozen cryo-protected crystals be shipped to large government-run synchrotron facilities for data collection. In an effort to eliminate the need to ship crystals for data collection, we have developed the first laboratory-scale synchrotron light source capable of performing many of the state-of-the-art synchrotron applications in X-ray science. This Compact Light Source is a first-in-class device that uses inverse Compton scattering to generate X-rays of sufficient flux, tunable wavelength and beam size to allow high-resolution X-ray diffraction data collection from protein crystals. We report on benchmarking tests of X-ray diffraction data collection with hen egg white lysozyme, and the successful high-resolution X-ray structure determination of the Glycine cleavage system protein H from Mycobacterium tuberculosis using diffraction data collected with the Compact Light Source X-ray beam.
PMCID: PMC2939714  PMID: 20364333
22.  Buffer Optimization of Thermal Melt Assays of Plasmodium Proteins for Detection of Small-Molecule Ligands 
Journal of biomolecular screening  2009;14(6):700-707.
In the last decade, thermal melt/thermal shift assays have become a common tool for identifying ligands and other factors that stabilize specific proteins. Increased stability is indicated by an increase in the protein's melting temperature (Tm). In optimizing the assays for subsequent screening of compound libraries, it is important to minimize the variability of Tm measurements so as to maximize the assay's ability to detect potential ligands. Here we present an investigation of Tm variability in recombinant proteins from Plasmodium parasites. Ligands of Plasmodium proteins are particularly interesting as potential starting points for drugs for malaria, and new drugs are urgently needed. A single standard buffer (100 mM HEPES, pH 7.5, 150 mM NaCl) permitted estimation of Tm for 58 of 61 Plasmodium proteins tested. However, with several proteins, Tm could not be measured with a consistency suitable for high-throughput screening unless alternative protein-specific buffers were employed. We conclude that buffer optimization to minimize variability in Tm measurements increases the success of thermal melt screens involving proteins for which a standard buffer is suboptimal.
PMCID: PMC2819745  PMID: 19470714
thermal shift assays; protein unfolding; protein stabilization; superoxide dismutase
23.  Backbone and side chain 1H, 13C, and 15N NMR assignments for the organic hydroperoxide resistance protein (Ohr) from Burkholderia pseudomallei 
Biomolecular NMR assignments  2009;3(2):163-166.
Burkholderia pseudomallei is a NIAID Category B microorganism responsible for melioidosis. Here we report backbone and side chain NMR assignments for the 139-residue, homodimeric, organic hydroperoxide resistance protein (Ohr) from this organism.
PMCID: PMC2774895  PMID: 19888681
Melioidosis; Infectious diseases; Biological warfare agent; Perdeuterated proteins; Host-pathogen interactions; Seattle Structural Genomics Center for Infectious Disease (SSGCID)
24.  Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3 Is a Potential Drug Target for African Trypanosomiasis Therapy▿  
Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy  2008;52(10):3710-3717.
Development of a safe, effective, and inexpensive therapy for African trypanosomiasis is an urgent priority. In this study, we evaluated the validity of Trypanosoma brucei glycogen synthase kinase 3 (GSK-3) as a potential drug target. Interference with the RNA of either of two GSK-3 homologues in bloodstream-form T. brucei parasites led to growth arrest and altered parasite morphology, demonstrating their requirement for cell survival. Since the growth arrest after RNA interference appeared to be more profound for T. brucei GSK-3 “short” (Tb10.161.3140) than for T. brucei GSK-3 “long” (Tb927.7.2420), we focused on T. brucei GSK-3 short for further studies. T. brucei GSK-3 short with an N-terminal maltose-binding protein fusion was cloned, expressed, and purified in a functional form. The potency of a GSK-3-focused inhibitor library against the recombinant enzyme of T. brucei GSK-3 short, as well as bloodstream-form parasites, was evaluated with the aim of determining if compounds that inhibit enzyme activity could also block the parasites' growth and proliferation. Among the compounds active against the cell, there was an excellent correlation between activity inhibiting the T. brucei GSK-3 short enzyme and the inhibition of T. brucei growth. Thus, there is reasonable genetic and chemical validation of GSK-3 short as a drug target for T. brucei. Finally, selective inhibition may be required for therapy targeting the GSK-3 enzyme, and a molecular model of the T. brucei GSK-3 short enzyme suggests that compounds that selectively inhibit T. brucei GSK-3 short over the human GSK-3 enzymes can be found.
PMCID: PMC2565902  PMID: 18644955
25.  The plug-based nanovolume Microcapillary Protein Crystallization System (MPCS) 
The Microcapillary Protein Crystallization System (MPCS) is a new protein-crystallization technology used to generate nanolitre-sized crystallization experiments for crystal screening and optimization. Using the MPCS, diffraction-ready crystals were grown in the plastic MPCS CrystalCard and were used to solve the structure of methionine-R-sulfoxide reductase.
The Microcapillary Protein Crystallization System (MPCS) embodies a new semi-automated plug-based crystallization technology which enables nanolitre-volume screening of crystallization conditions in a plasticware format that allows crystals to be easily removed for traditional cryoprotection and X-ray diffraction data collection. Protein crystals grown in these plastic devices can be directly subjected to in situ X-ray diffraction studies. The MPCS integrates the formulation of crystallization cocktails with the preparation of the crystallization experiments. Within microfluidic Teflon tubing or the microfluidic circuitry of a plastic CrystalCard, ∼10–20 nl volume droplets are generated, each representing a microbatch-style crystallization experiment with a different chemical composition. The entire protein sample is utilized in crystallization experiments. Sparse-matrix screening and chemical gradient screening can be combined in one com­prehensive ‘hybrid’ crystallization trial. The technology lends itself well to optimization by high-granularity gradient screening using optimization reagents such as precipitation agents, ligands or cryoprotectants.
PMCID: PMC2585160  PMID: 19020349
protein crystallization; Microcapillary Protein Crystallization System

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