The identification of novel metabolites and the characterization of their biological functions are major challenges in biology. X-ray crystallography can reveal unanticipated ligands that persist through purification and crystallization. These adventitious protein-ligand complexes provide insights into new activities, pathways and regulatory mechanisms. We describe a new metabolite, carboxy-S-adenosyl-l-methionine (Cx-SAM), its biosynthetic pathway and its role in transfer RNA modification. The structure of CmoA, a member of the SAM-dependent methyltransferase superfamily, revealed a ligand consistent with Cx-SAM in the catalytic site. Mechanistic analyses showed an unprecedented role for prephenate as the carboxyl donor and the involvement of a unique ylide intermediate as the carboxyl acceptor in the CmoA-mediated conversion of SAM to Cx-SAM. A second member of the SAM-dependent methyltransferase superfamily, CmoB, recognizes Cx-SAM and acts as a carboxymethyltransferase to convert 5-hydroxyuridine into 5-oxyacetyl uridine at the wobble position of multiple tRNAs in Gram-negative bacteria, resulting in expanded codon-recognition properties. CmoA and CmoB represent the first documented synthase and transferase for Cx-SAM. These findings reveal new functional diversity in the SAM-dependent methyltransferase superfamily and expand the metabolic and biological contributions of SAM-based biochemistry. These discoveries highlight the value of structural genomics approaches in identifying ligands within the context of their physiologically relevant macromolecular binding partners, and in revealing their functions.
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