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1.  Specificity and Reactivity in Menaquinone Biosynthesis: The Structure of Escherichia coli MenD (2-Succinyl-5-Enolpyruvyl-6-Hydroxy-3-Cyclohexadiene-1-Carboxylate Synthase) 
Journal of molecular biology  2008;384(5):1353-1368.
The thiamine diphosphate (ThDP) and metal-ion-dependent enzyme 2-succinyl-5-enolpyruvyl-6-hydroxy-3-cyclohexadiene-1-carboxylate synthase, or MenD, catalyze the Stetter-like conjugate addition of α-ketoglutarate with isochorismate to release 2-succinyl-5-enolpyruvyl-6-hydroxy-3-cyclohexadiene-1-carboxylate and carbon dioxide. This reaction represents the first committed step for biosynthesis of menaquinone, or vitamin K2, a key cofactor for electron transport in bacteria and a metabolite for posttranslational modification of proteins in mammals. The medium-resolution structure of MenD from Escherichia coli (EcMenD) in complex with its cofactor and Mn2+ has been determined in two related hexagonal crystal forms. The subunit displays the typical three-domain structure observed for ThDP-dependent enzymes in which two of the domains bind and force the cofactor into a configuration that supports formation of a reactive ylide. The structures reveal a stable dimer-of-dimers association in agreement with gel filtration and analytical ultracentrifugation studies and confirm the classification of MenD in the pyruvate oxidase family of ThDP-dependent enzymes. The active site, created by contributions from a pair of subunits, is highly basic with a pronounced hydrophobic patch. These features, formed by highly conserved amino acids, match well to the chemical properties of the substrates. A model of the covalent intermediate formed after reaction with the first substrate α-ketoglutarate and with the second substrate isochorismate positioned to accept nucleophilic attack has been prepared. This, in addition to structural and sequence comparisons with putative MenD orthologues, provides insight into the specificity and reactivity of MenD and allows a two-stage reaction mechanism to be proposed.
PMCID: PMC3656419  PMID: 18983854
crystal structure; enzyme mechanism; menaquinone biosynthesis; thiamine diphosphate cofactor
2.  Structure of Staphylococcus aureus EsxA suggests a contribution to virulence by action as a transport chaperone and/or adaptor protein 
Journal of molecular biology  2008;383(3):603-614.
Staphylococcus aureus pathogenesis depends on a specialized protein secretion system, ESX-1, that delivers a range of virulence factors to assist infectivity. We report the characterization of two such factors, EsxA and EsxB; small acidic dimeric proteins carrying a distinctive WXG motif. EsxA crystallized in triclinic and monoclinic forms and high-resolution structures were determined. The asymmetric unit of each crystal form is a dimer. The EsxA subunit forms an elongated cylindrical structure created from side-by-side α-helices linked with a hairpin bend formed by the WXG motif. Approximately 25% of the solvent accessible surface area of each subunit is involved in interactions, predominantly hydrophobic, with the partner subunit. Secondary structure predictions suggest that EsxB displays a similar structure. The WXG motif helps to create a shallow cleft at each end of the dimer, forming a short β-sheet-like feature with an N-terminal segment of the partner subunit. Structural and sequence comparisons, exploiting biological data on related proteins found in Mycobacteria tuberculosis suggest that this family of proteins may contribute to pathogenesis by transporting protein cargo through the ESX-1 system exploiting a C-terminal secretion signal and / or are capable of acting as adaptor proteins to facilitate interactions with host receptor proteins.
PMCID: PMC3465917  PMID: 18773907
adaptor protein; chaperone; helical bundle; secretion system; virulence factor
3.  Characterization of Aquifex aeolicus 4-diphosphocytidyl-2C-methyl-d-erythritol kinase – ligand recognition in a template for antimicrobial drug discovery 
The Febs Journal  2008;275(11):2779-2794.
4-Diphosphocytidyl-2C-methyl-d-erythritol kinase (IspE) catalyses the ATP-dependent conversion of 4-diphosphocytidyl-2C-methyl-d-erythritol (CDPME) to 4-diphosphocytidyl-2C-methyl-d-erythritol 2-phosphate with the release of ADP. This reaction occurs in the non-mevalonate pathway of isoprenoid precursor biosynthesis and because it is essential in important microbial pathogens and absent from mammals it represents a potential target for anti-infective drugs. We set out to characterize the biochemical properties, determinants of molecular recognition and reactivity of IspE and report the cloning and purification of recombinant Aquifex aeolicus IspE (AaIspE), kinetic data, metal ion, temperature and pH dependence, crystallization and structure determination of the enzyme in complex with CDP, CDPME and ADP. In addition, 4-fluoro-3,5-dihydroxy-4-methylpent-1-enylphosphonic acid (compound 1) was designed to mimic a fragment of the substrate, a synthetic route to 1 was elucidated and the complex structure determined. Surprisingly, this ligand occupies the binding site for the ATP α-phosphate not the binding site for the methyl-d-erythritol moiety of CDPME. Gel filtration and analytical ultracentrifugation indicate that AaIspE is a monomer in solution. The enzyme displays the characteristic α/β galacto-homoserine-mevalonate-phosphomevalonate kinase fold, with the catalytic centre positioned in a deep cleft between the ATP- and CDPME-binding domains. Comparisons indicate a high degree of sequence conservation on the IspE active site across bacterial species, similarities in structure, specificity of substrate recognition and mechanism. The biochemical characterization, attainment of well-ordered and reproducible crystals and the models resulting from the analyses provide reagents and templates to support the structure-based design of broad-spectrum antimicrobial agents.
PMCID: PMC2655357  PMID: 18422643
enzyme–ligand complex; GHMP kinase; isoprenoid biosynthesis; molecular recognition; non-mevalonate pathway
4.  Biochemical characterization of the initial steps of the Kennedy pathway in Trypanosoma brucei: the ethanolamine and choline kinases 
Biochemical Journal  2008;415(Pt 1):135-144.
Ethanolamine and choline are major components of the trypanosome membrane phospholipids, in the form of GPEtn (glycerophosphoethanolamine) and GPCho (glycerophosphocholine). Ethanolamine is also found as an integral component of the GPI (glycosylphosphatidylinositol) anchor that is required for membrane attachment of cell-surface proteins, most notably the variant-surface glycoproteins. The de novo synthesis of GPEtn and GPCho starts with the generation of phosphoethanolamine and phosphocholine by ethanolamine and choline kinases via the Kennedy pathway. Database mining revealed two putative C/EKs (choline/ethanolamine kinases) in the Trypanosoma brucei genome, which were cloned, overexpressed, purified and characterized. TbEK1 (T. brucei ethanolamine kinase 1) was shown to be catalytically active as an ethanolamine-specific kinase, i.e. it had no choline kinase activity. The Km values for ethanolamine and ATP were found to be 18.4±0.9 and 219±29 μM respectively. TbC/EK2 (T. brucei choline/ethanolamine kinase 2), on the other hand, was found to be able to phosphorylate both ethanolamine and choline, even though choline was the preferred substrate, with a Km 80 times lower than that of ethanolamine. The Km values for choline, ethanolamine and ATP were 31.4±2.6 μM, 2.56±0.31 mM and 20.6±1.96 μM respectively. Further substrate specificity analysis revealed that both TbEK1 and TbC/EK2 were able to tolerate various modifications at the amino group, with the exception of a quaternary amine for TbEK1 (choline) and a primary amine for TbC/EK2 (ethanolamine). Both enzymes recognized analogues with substituents on C-2, but substitutions on C-1 and elongations of the carbon chain were not well tolerated.
PMCID: PMC2552378  PMID: 18489261
choline kinase; ethanolamine kinase; Kennedy pathway; Trypanosoma brucei; C/EK, choline/ethanolamine kinase; EK, ethanolamine kinase; GPCho, glycerophosphocholine; GPEtn, glycerophosphoethanolamine; GPI, glycosylphosphatidylinositol; GPSer, glycerophosphoserine; HPTLC, high-performance TLC; LB, Luria–Bertani; MALDI, matrix-assisted laser-desorption ionization; ORF, open reading frame; PtdCho, phosphotidylcholine; PtdEtn, phosphatidylethanolamine; RT, reverse transcription; Tb, Trypanosome brucei; TEV, tobacco etch virus; TOF, time-of-flight; UTR, untranslated region; VSG, variant-surface glycoprotein
5.  Leishmania Trypanothione Synthetase-Amidase Structure Reveals a Basis for Regulation of Conflicting Synthetic and Hydrolytic Activities*S⃞ 
The Journal of Biological Chemistry  2008;283(25):17672-17680.
The bifunctional trypanothione synthetase-amidase catalyzes biosynthesis and hydrolysis of the glutathione-spermidine adduct trypanothione, the principal intracellular thiol-redox metabolite in parasitic trypanosomatids. These parasites are unique with regard to their reliance on trypanothione to determine intracellular thiol-redox balance in defense against oxidative and chemical stress and to regulate polyamine levels. Enzymes involved in trypanothione biosynthesis provide essential biological activities, and those absent from humans or for which orthologues are sufficiently distinct are attractive targets to underpin anti-parasitic drug discovery. The structure of Leishmania major trypanothione synthetase-amidase, determined in three crystal forms, reveals two catalytic domains. The N-terminal domain, a cysteine, histidine-dependent amidohydrolase/peptidase amidase, is a papain-like cysteine protease, and the C-terminal synthetase domain displays an ATP-grasp family fold common to C:N ligases. Modeling of substrates into each active site provides insight into the specificity and reactivity of this unusual enzyme, which is able to catalyze four reactions. The domain orientation is distinct from that observed in a related bacterial glutathionylspermidine synthetase. In trypanothione synthetase-amidase, the interactions formed by the C terminus, binding in and restricting access to the amidase active site, suggest that the balance of ligation and hydrolytic activity is directly influenced by the alignment of the domains with respect to each other and implicate conformational changes with amidase activity. The potential inhibitory role of the C terminus provides a mechanism to control relative levels of the critical metabolites, trypanothione, glutathionylspermidine, and spermidine in Leishmania.
PMCID: PMC2427367  PMID: 18420578
6.  TarO: a target optimisation system for structural biology 
Nucleic Acids Research  2008;36(Web Server issue):W190-W196.
TarO ( offers a single point of reference for key bioinformatics analyses relevant to selecting proteins or domains for study by structural biology techniques. The protein sequence is analysed by 17 algorithms and compared to 8 databases. TarO gathers putative homologues, including orthologues, and then obtains predictions of properties for these sequences including crystallisation propensity, protein disorder and post-translational modifications. Analyses are run on a high-performance computing cluster, the results integrated, stored in a database and accessed through a web-based user interface. Output is in tabulated format and in the form of an annotated multiple sequence alignment (MSA) that may be edited interactively in the program Jalview. TarO also simplifies the gathering of additional annotations via the Distributed Annotation System, both from the MSA in Jalview and through links to Dasty2. Routes to other information gateways are included, for example to relevant pages from UniProt, COG and the Conserved Domains Database. Open access to TarO is available from a guest account with private accounts for academic use available on request. Future development of TarO will include further analysis steps and integration with the Protein Information Management System (PIMS), a sister project in the BBSRC ‘Structural Proteomics of Rational Targets’ initiative
PMCID: PMC2447720  PMID: 18385152

Results 1-6 (6)