Van der Donk and Tang got around these problems by producing the two cytolysin components separately in another bacterium, Escherichia coli (esh-uh-REE-kee-uh KOH-lie), and analyzing them separately.
"The two components are both cyclic peptides, one with three rings and the other with two rings," van der Donk said. "Curiously, a single enzyme makes both compounds."
In a series of experiments, the researchers found that one ring on each of the proteins adopted a (D-L) stereochemistry that is common in lantibiotics (see image, above). But the other rings all had an unusual (L-L) configuration, something van der Donk had never seen before.
Scientists had assumed that the enzyme that shaped enterococcal cytolysin, a lantibiotic synthetase, acted like a three-dimensional mold that gave the ring structures of cytolysin the exact same stereochemistry, van der Donk said.
"But we found that the enzyme, enterococcal cytolysin synthetase, makes the rings with different stereochemistry," he said. "I don't know of any other examples where one enzyme can make very similar products but with different stereochemistries."
The researchers don't know how the enzyme accomplishes this feat, but found a clue in the sequence of amino acids that make up the protein rings. The chemical characteristics of the three amino acids in the middle of the ring structure and their proximity to another amino acid, a cysteine, determined whether the rings took on a D-L or L-L stereochemistry.
The researchers tested the idea that the amino acid sequence of the cytolysin protein was guiding the stereochemistry by looking at
|Contact: Diana Yates|
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign