Molecular models and mutational analyses of plant specifier proteins suggest active site residues and reaction mechanism

Wolfgang Brandt, Anita Backenköhler, Eva Schulze, Antje Plock, Thomas Herberg, Elin Roese, Ute Wittstock
Plant Molecular Biology 2014, 84 (1-2): 173-88
As components of the glucosinolate-myrosinase system, specifier proteins contribute to the diversity of chemical defenses that have evolved in plants of the Brassicales order as a protection against herbivores and pathogens. Glucosinolates are thioglucosides that are stored separately from their hydrolytic enzymes, myrosinases, in plant tissue. Upon tissue disruption, glucosinolates are hydrolyzed by myrosinases yielding instable aglucones that rearrange to form defensive isothiocyanates. In the presence of specifier proteins, other products, namely simple nitriles, epithionitriles and organic thiocyanates, can be formed instead of isothiocyanates depending on the glucosinolate side chain structure and the type of specifier protein. The biochemical role of specifier proteins is largely unresolved. We have used two thiocyanate-forming proteins and one epithiospecifier protein with different substrate/product specificities to develop molecular models that, in conjunction with mutational analyses, allow us to propose an active site and docking arrangements with glucosinolate aglucones that may explain some of the differences in specifier protein specificities. Furthermore, quantum-mechanical calculations support a reaction mechanism for benzylthiocyanate formation including a catalytic role of the TFP involved. These results may serve as a basis for further theoretical and experimental investigations of the mechanisms of glucosinolate breakdown that will also help to better understand the evolution of specifier proteins from ancestral proteins with functions outside glucosinolate metabolism.


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