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N-acetylglutamate synthase: structure, function and defects.

N-acetylglutamate (NAG) is a unique enzyme cofactor, essential for liver ureagenesis in mammals while it is the first committed substrate for de novo arginine biosynthesis in microorganisms and plants. The enzyme that produces NAG from glutamate and CoA, NAG synthase (NAGS), is allosterically inhibited by arginine in microorganisms and plants and activated in mammals. This transition of the allosteric effect occurred when tetrapods moved from sea to land. The first mammalian NAGS gene (from mouse) was cloned in 2002 and revealed significant differences from the NAGS ortholog in microorganisms. Almost all NAGS genes possess a C-terminus transferase domain in which the catalytic activity resides and an N-terminus kinase domain where arginine binds. The three-dimensional structure of NAGS shows two distinctly folded domains. The kinase domain binds arginine while the acetyltransferase domain contains the catalytic site. NAGS deficiency in humans leads to hyperammonemia and can be primary, due to mutations in the NAGS gene or secondary due to other mitochondrial aberrations that interfere with the normal function of the same enzyme. For either condition, N-carbamylglutamate (NCG), a stable functional analog of NAG, was found to either restore or improve the deficient urea-cycle function.

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