The new findings, reported in Nature Chemical Biology, should help scientists find new ways to target the enterococcal cytolysin protein, a "virulence factor that is associated with acute infection in humans," said University of Illinois chemistry and Institute for Genomic Biology professor Wilfred van der Donk, who conducted the study with graduate student Weixin Tang.
One enzyme shapes the components of a bacterial protein into rings with right-handed (D) and left-handed (L) stereochemistries.
Credit: Graphic by Weixin Tang
Enterococcus faecalis (EN-ter-oh-cock-us faye-KAY-liss) is a normal microbial inhabitant of the gastrointestinal tracts of humans and other mammals and generally does not harm its host. Some virulent strains, however, produce cytolysin (sigh-toe-LIE-sin), a protein that, once assembled, attacks other microbes and kills mammalian cells.
"The cytolysin protein made by Enterococcus faecalis consists of two compounds that have no activity by themselves but when combined kill human cells," van der Donk said. "We know from epidemiological studies that if you are infected with a strain of E. faecalis that has the genes to make cytolysin, you have a significantly higher chance of dying from your infection." E. faecalis contributes to root canal infections, urinary tract infections, endocarditis, meningitis, bacteremia and other infections.
Enterococcal cytolysin belongs to a class of antibiotic proteins, called lantibiotics, which have two or more sulfur-containing ring structures. Scientists had been unable to determine the three-dimensional structure of this cytolysin because the bacterium produces it at very low concentrations. Another problem that has stymied researchers is that the two protein components of cytolysin tend to clump together when put in a lab dish.
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 other lantibiotic proteins with similar sequences. So far, every protein they've tested that has the same sequence characteristics conforms to the pattern they discovered, van der Donk said.
Further tests showed that the cytolysin produced in E. coli had the same anti-microbial and cell-killing potency as the E. faecalis variety.
"Knowing the structure of enterococcal cytolysin and having a method to produce it in relatively large quantities will allow scientists to find out how it kills human cells and, in turn, how we might fight against it," van der Donk said.
The National Institutes of Health supported this research. Van der Donk also is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.
To reach Wilfred van der Donk, call 217-244-5360; email email@example.com.
The paper, "The Sequence of the Enterococcal Cytolysin Imparts Unusual Lanthionine Stereochemistry," is available to the media from the U. of I. News Bureau.
Diana Yates | University of Illinois
Multi-year study finds 'hotspots' of ammonia over world's major agricultural areas
17.03.2017 | University of Maryland
Diabetes Drug May Improve Bone Fat-induced Defects of Fracture Healing
17.03.2017 | Deutsches Institut für Ernährungsforschung Potsdam-Rehbrücke
The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.
To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
29.03.2017 | Materials Sciences
29.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
29.03.2017 | Earth Sciences