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Publications - Molecular Signal Processing

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Schilling, S.; Hoffmann, T.; Rosche, F.; Manhart, S.; Wasternack, C.; Demuth, H.-U.; Heterologous Expression and Characterization of Human Glutaminyl Cyclase: Evidence for a Disulfide Bond with Importance for Catalytic Activity Biochemistry 41, 10849-10857, (2002) DOI: 10.1021/bi0260381

Glutaminyl cyclase (QC, EC catalyzes the formation of pyroglutamate residues from glutamine at the N-terminus of peptides and proteins. In the current study, human QC was functionally expressed in the secretory pathway of Pichia pastoris, yielding milligram quantities after purification from the supernatant of a 5 L fermentation. Initial characterization studies of the recombinant QC using MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry revealed correct proteolytic processing and N-glycosylation at both potential sites with similar 2 kDa extensions. CD spectral analysis indicated a high α-helical content, which contrasts with plant QC from Carica papaya. The kinetic parameters for conversion of H-Gln-Tyr-Ala-OH by recombinant human QC were almost identical to those previously reported for purified bovine pituitary QC. However, the results obtained for conversion of H-Gln-Gln-OH, H-Gln-NH2, and H-Gln-AMC were found to be contradictory to previous studies on human QC expressed intracellularly in E. coli. Expression of QC in E. coli showed that approximately 50% of the protein did not contain a disulfide bond that is present in the entire QC expressed in P. pastoris. Further, the enzyme was consistently inactivated by treatment with 15 mM DTT, whereas deglycosylation had no effect on enzymatic activity. Analysis of the fluorescence spectra of the native, reduced, and unfolded human QC point to a conformational change of the protein upon treatment with DTT. In terms of the different enzymatic properties, the consequences of QC expression in different environments are discussed.

Schilling, S.; Hoffmann, T.; Wermann, M.; Heiser, U.; Wasternack, C.; Demuth, H.-U.; Continuous Spectrometric Assays for Glutaminyl Cyclase Activity Anal. Biochem. 303, 49-56, (2002) DOI: 10.1006/abio.2001.5560

The enzymatic conversion of one chromogenic substrate, -glutamine-p-nitroanilide, and two fluorogenic substrates, -glutaminyl-2-naphthylamide and -glutaminyl-4-methylcoumarinylamide, into their respective pyroglutamic acid derivatives by glutaminyl cyclase (QC) was estimated by introducing a new coupled assay using pyroglutamyl aminopeptidase as the auxiliary enzyme. For the purified papaya QC, the kinetic parameters were found to be in the range of those previously reported for other glutaminyl peptides, such as Gln-Gln, Gln-Ala, or Gln-tert-butyl ester. The assay can be performed in the presence of ammonia up to a concentration of 50 mM. Increasing ionic strength, e.g., potassium chloride up to 300 mM, resulted in an increase in enzymatic activity of about 20%. This is the first report of a fast, continuous, and reliable determination of QC activity, even in the presence of ammonium ions, during the course of protein purification and enzymatic analysis.

Schilling, S.; Manhart, S.; Hoffmann, T.; Ludwig, H.-H.; Wasternack, C.; Demuth, H.-U.; Substrate Specificity of Glutaminyl Cyclases from Plants and Animals Biol. Chem. 384, 1583-1592, (2003) DOI: 10.1515/BC.2003.175

Glutaminyl cyclases (QC) catalyze the intramolecular cyclization of N-terminal glutamine residues of peptides and proteins. For a comparison of the substrate specificity of human and papaya QC enzymes, a novel continuous assay was established by adapting an existing discontinuous method. Specificity constants (kcat/Km) of dipeptides and dipeptide surrogates were higher for plant QC, whereas the selectivity for oligopeptides was similar for both enzymes. However, only the specificity constants of mammalian QC were dependent on size and composition of the substrates. Specificity constants of both enzymes were equally pH-dependent in the acidic pH-region, revealing a pKa value identical to the pKa of the substrate, suggesting similarities in the substrate conversion mode. Accordingly, both QCs converted the L-?homoglutaminyl residue in the peptide H-?homoGln-Phe-Lys-Arg-Leu-Ala-NH2 and the glutaminyl residues of the branched peptide H-Gln-Lys(Gln)-Arg-Leu-Ala-NH2 as well as the partially cyclized peptide H-Gln-cyclo( N?-Lys-Arg-Pro-Ala-Gly-Phe). In contrast, only QC from C. papaya was able to cyclize a methylated glutamine residue, while this compound did not even inhibit human QC-catalysis, suggesting distinct substrate recognition pattern. The conversion of the potential physiological substrates gastrin, neurotensin and [GlN1]-fertilization promoting peptide indicates that human QC may play a key role in posttranslational modification of most if not all pGlu-containing hormones.

Schilling, S.; Niestroj, A. J.; Rahfeld, J.-U.; Hoffmann, T.; Wermann, M.; Zunkel, K.; Wasternack, C.; Demuth, H.-U.; Identification of Human Glutaminyl Cyclase as a Metalloenzyme J. Biol. Chem. 278, 49773-49779, (2003) DOI: 10.1074/jbc.M309077200

Human glutaminyl cyclase (QC) was identified as a metalloenzyme as suggested by the time-dependent inhibition by the heterocyclic chelators 1,10-phenanthroline and dipicolinic acid. The effect of EDTA on QC catalysis was negligible. Inactivated enzyme could be fully restored by the addition of Zn2+ in the presence of equimolar concentrations of EDTA. Little reactivation was observed with Co2+ and Mn2+. Other metal ions such as K+, Ca2+, and Ni2+ were inactive under the same conditions. Additionally, imidazole and imidazole derivatives were identified as competitive inhibitors of QC. An initial structure activity-based inhibitor screening of imidazole-derived compounds revealed potent inhibition of QC by imidazole N-1 derivatives. Subsequent data base screening led to the identification of two highly potent inhibitors, 3-[3-(1H-imidazol-1-yl)propyl]-2-thioxoimidazolidin-4-one and 1,4-bis-(imidazol-1-yl)-methyl-2,5-dimethylbenzene, which exhibited respective Ki values of 818 ± 1 and 295 ± 5 nm. The binding properties of the imidazole derivatives were further analyzed by the pH dependence of QC inhibition. The kinetically obtained pKa values of 6.94 ± 0.02, 6.93 ± 0.03, and 5.60 ± 0.05 for imidazole, methylimidazole, and benzimidazole, respectively, match the values obtained by titrimetric pKa determination, indicating the requirement for an unprotonated nitrogen for binding to QC. Similarly, the pH dependence of the kinetic parameter Km for the QC-catalyzed conversion of H-Gln-7-ami-no-4-methylcoumarin also implies that only N-terminally unprotonated substrate molecules are bound to the active site of the enzyme, whereas turnover is not affected. The results reveal human QC as a metal-dependent transferase, suggesting that the active site-bound metal is a potential site for interaction with novel, highly potent competitive inhibitors.

Flores, R.; Delgado, S.; Gas, M.-E.; Carbonell, A.; Molina, D.; Gago, S.; De la Peña, M.; Viroids: the minimal non-coding RNAs with autonomous replication FEBS Lett. 567, 42-48, (2004) DOI: 10.1016/j.febslet.2004.03.118

Viroids are small (246–401 nucleotides), non‐coding, circular RNAs able to replicate autonomously in certain plants. Viroids are classified into the families Pospiviroidae and Avsunviroidae , whose members replicate in the nucleus and chloroplast, respectively. Replication occurs by an RNA‐based rolling‐circle mechanism in three steps: (1) synthesis of longer‐than‐unit strands catalyzed by host DNA‐dependent RNA polymerases forced to transcribe RNA templates, (2) processing to unit‐length, which in family Avsunviroidae is mediated by hammerhead ribozymes, and (3) circularization either through an RNA ligase or autocatalytically. Disease induction might result from the accumulation of viroid‐specific small interfering RNAs that, via RNA silencing, could interfere with normal developmental pathways.

Carbonell, A.; De la Peña, M.; Flores, R.; Gago, S.; Effects of the trinucleotide preceding the self-cleavage site on eggplant latent viroid hammerheads: differences in co- and post-transcriptional self-cleavage may explain the lack of trinucleotide AUC in most natural hammerheads Nucleic Acids Res. 34, 5613-5622, (2006) DOI: 10.1093/nar/gkl717

Eggplant latent viroid (ELVd) can form stable hammerhead structures in its (+) and (−) strands. These ribozymes have the longest helices I reported in natural hammerheads, with that of the ELVd (+) hammerhead being particularly stable (5/7 bp are G-C). Moreover, the trinucleotide preceding the self-cleavage site of this hammerhead is AUA, which together with GUA also found in some natural hammerheads, deviate from the GUC present in most natural hammerheads including the ELVd (−) hammerhead. When the AUA trinucleotide preceding the self-cleavage site of the ELVd (+) hammerhead was substituted by GUA and GUC, as well as by AUC (essentially absent in natural hammerheads), the values of the self-cleavage rate constants at low magnesium of the purified hammerheads were: ELVd-(+)-AUC≈ELVd-(+)-GUC>ELVd-(+)-GUA> ELVd-(+)-AUA. However, the ELVd-(+)-AUC hammerhead was the catalytically less efficient during in vitro transcription, most likely because of the transient adoption of catalytically-inactive metastable structures. These results suggest that natural hammerheads have been evolutionary selected to function co-transcriptionally, and provide a model explaining the lack of trinucleotide AUC preceding the self-cleavage site of most natural hammerheads. Comparisons with other natural hammerheads showed that the ELVd-(+)-GUC and ELVd-(+)-AUC hammerheads are the catalytically most active in a post-transcriptional context with low magnesium.

Schilling, S.; Stenzel, I.; von Bohlen, A.; Wermann, M.; Schulz, K.; Demuth, H.-U.; Wasternack, C.; Isolation and characterization of the glutaminyl cyclases from Solanum tuberosum and Arabidopsis thaliana: implications for physiological functions Biol. Chem. 388, 145-153, (2007) DOI: 10.1515/BC.2007.016

Glutaminyl cyclases (QCs) catalyze the formation of pyroglutamic acid at the N-terminus of several peptides and proteins. On the basis of the amino acid sequence of Carica papaya QC, we identified cDNAs of the putative counterparts from Solanum tuberosum and Arabidopsis thaliana. Upon expression of the corresponding cDNAs from both plants via the secretory pathway of Pichia pastoris, two active QC proteins were isolated. The specificity of the purified proteins was assessed using various substrates with different amino acid composition and length. Highest specificities were observed with substrates possessing large hydrophobic residues adjacent to the N-terminal glutamine and for fluorogenic dipeptide surrogates. However, compared to Carica papaya QC, the specificity constants were approximately one order of magnitude lower for most of the QC substrates analyzed. The QCs also catalyzed the conversion of N-terminal glutamic acid to pyroglutamic acid, but with approximately 105- to 106-fold lower specificity. The ubiquitous distribution of plant QCs prompted a search for potential substrates in plants. Based on database entries, numerous proteins, e.g., pathogenesis-related proteins, were found that carry a pyroglutamate residue at the N-terminus, suggesting QC involvement. The putative relevance of QCs and pyroglutamic acid for plant defense reactions is discussed.
Books and chapters

Flores, R.; Carbonell, A.; De la Peña, M.; Gago, S.; RNAs Autocatalíticos: Ribozimas de Cabeza de Martillo 407-425, (2007)


Schilling, S.; Wasternack, C.; Demuth, H.-U.; Glutaminyl cyclases from animals and plants: a case of functionally convergent protein evolution Biol. Chem. 389, (2008) DOI: 10.1515/BC.2008.111

Several mammalian peptide hormones and proteins from plant and animal origin contain an N-terminal pyroglutamic acid (pGlu) residue. Frequently, the moiety is important in exerting biological function in either mediating interaction with receptors or stabilizing against N-terminal degradation. Glutaminyl cyclases (QCs) were isolated from different plants and animals catalyzing pGlu formation. The recent resolution of the 3D structures of Carica papaya and human QCs clearly supports different evolutionary origins of the proteins, which is also reflected by different enzymatic mechanisms. The broad substrate specificity is revealed by the heterogeneity of physiological substrates of plant and animal QCs, including cytokines, matrix proteins and pathogenesis-related proteins. Moreover, recent evidence also suggests human QC as a catalyst of pGlu formation at the N-terminus of amyloid peptides, which contribute to Alzheimer's disease. Obviously, owing to its biophysical properties, the function of pGlu in plant and animal proteins is very similar in terms of stabilizing or mediating protein and peptide structure. It is possible that the requirement for catalysis of pGlu formation under physiological conditions may have triggered separate evolution of QCs in plants and animals.

Carbonell, A.; Martínez de Alba, A.-E.; Flores, R.; Gago, S.; Double-stranded RNA interferes in a sequence-specific manner with the infection of representative members of the two viroid families Virology 371, 44-53, (2008) DOI: 10.1016/j.virol.2007.09.031

Infection by viroids, non-protein-coding circular RNAs, occurs with the accumulation of 21–24 nt viroid-derived small RNAs (vd-sRNAs) with characteristic properties of small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) associated to RNA silencing. The vd-sRNAs most likely derive from dicer-like (DCL) enzymes acting on viroid-specific dsRNA, the key elicitor of RNA silencing, or on the highly structured genomic RNA. Previously, viral dsRNAs delivered mechanically or agroinoculated have been shown to interfere with virus infection in a sequence-specific manner. Here, we report similar results with members of the two families of nuclear- and chloroplast-replicating viroids. Moreover, homologous vd-sRNAs co-delivered mechanically also interfered with one of the viroids examined. The interference was sequence-specific, temperature-dependent and, in some cases, also dependent on the dose of the co-inoculated dsRNA or vd-sRNAs. The sequence-specific nature of these effects suggests the involvement of the RNA induced silencing complex (RISC), which provides sequence specificity to RNA silencing machinery. Therefore, viroid titer in natural infections might be regulated by the concerted action of DCL and RISC. Viroids could have evolved their secondary structure as a compromise between resistance to DCL and RISC, which act preferentially against RNAs with compact and relaxed secondary structures, respectively. In addition, compartmentation, association with proteins or active replication might also help viroids to elude their host RNA silencing machinery.
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