Structure/function analysis of a dUTPase: catalytic mechanism of a potential chemotherapeutic target

J M Harris, E M McIntosh, G E Muscat
Journal of Molecular Biology 1999 April 30, 288 (2): 275-87
dUTP pyrophosphatase catalyses hydrolysis of deoxyuridine triphosphate (dUTP) to deoxyuridine monophosphate (dUMP) and inorganic pyrophosphate (PPi). Elimination of dUTP is vital since its misincorporation into DNA by DNA polymerases can initiate a damaging iterative repair and misincorporation cycle, resulting in DNA fragmentation and cell death. The anti-tumour activity of folate agonists and thymidylate synthase inhibitors is thought to rely on dUTP misincorporation. Furthermore, retroviral cDNA production may be particularly susceptible to the effects of dUTP misincorporation by virtue of the error-prone nature of reverse trans criptase. Consequently, dUTPase activity is an ideal point of intervention in both chemotherapy and anti-retroviral therapy. In particular, the dUTPase encoded by a human endogenous retrovirus (HERV-K) has been suggested to complement HIV infection and so is an attractive target for specific inhibition. Hence, we used site photoaffinity labelling, site-directed mutagenesis and molecular modelling to assign catalytic roles to the conserved amino acid residues in the active site of the HERV-K dUTPase and to identify structural differences with other dUTPase enzymes. We found that dUTP photoaffinity labelling was specific for a beta-hairpin motif in HERV-K dUTPase. Mutagenesis of aspartate residues Asp84 and 86 to asparagine within this beta-hairpin showed the carboxylate moiety of both residues was required for catalysis but not for dUTP binding. An increase in the pKa of both aspartate residues brought about by substitution of a serine residue with a glutamate residue adjacent to the aspartate residues increased activity by a factor of 1.67 at pH 8.0, implicating general base catalysis as the enzyme's catalytic mechanism. Conservative mutagenesis of Tyr87 to Phe resulted in a sevenfold reduction of dUTPase activity and a 3.3-fold reduction in binding activity, whilst substitution with an isoleucine residue totally abolished both catalytic activity and dUTP binding, suggesting that binding/activity is dependent on an aromatic side-chain at the base of the hairpin. Comparison of a homology-based three-dimensional model structure of HERV-K dUTPase with a crystallographic structure of the human dUTPase revealed displacement of a conserved alpha-helix in the HERV-K enzyme causing expansion of the HERV-K active site. This expansion may be responsible for the ability of the HERV-K enzyme to hydrolyse dTTP and bind the bulkier dNTPs in contrast to the majority of dUTPases which are highly specific for dUTP. Knowledge of the dUTPase catalytic mechanism and the distinctive topography of the HERV-K active site provides a molecular basis for the design of HERV-K dUTPase-specific inhibitors.

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