Posttranslational amino acid epimerization: enzyme-catalyzed isomerization of amino acid residues in peptide chains.
Since ribosomally mediated protein biosynthesis is confined to the L-amino acid pool, the presence of D-amino acids in peptides was considered for many years to be restricted to proteins of prokaryotic origin. Unicellular microorganisms have been responsible for the generation of a host of D-amino acid-containing peptide antibiotics (gramicidin, actinomycin, bacitracin, polymyxins). Recently, a series of mu and delta opioid receptor agonists [dermorphins and deltorphins] and neuroactive tetrapeptides containing a D-amino acid residue have been isolated from amphibian (frog) skin and mollusks. Amino acid sequences obtained from the cDNA libraries coincide with the observed dermorphin and deltorphin sequences, suggesting a stereospecific posttranslational amino acid isomerization of unknown mechanism. A cofactor-independent serine isomerase found in the venom of the Agelenopsis aperta spider provides the first major clue to explain how multicellular organisms are capable of incorporating single D-amino acid residues into these and other eukaryotic peptides. The enzyme is capable of isomerizing serine, cysteine, O-methylserine, and alanine residues in the middle of peptide chains, thereby providing a biochemical capability that, until now, had not been observed. Both D- and L-amino acid residues are susceptible to isomerization. The substrates share a common Leu-Xaa-Phe-Ala recognition site. Early in the reaction sequence, solvent-derived deuterium resides solely with the epimerized product (not substrate) in isomerizations carried out in 2H2O. Significant deuterium isotope effects are obtained in these reactions in addition to isomerizations of isotopically labeled substrates (2H at the epimerizeable serine alpha-carbon atom). The combined kinetic and structural data suggests a two-base mechanism in which abstraction of a proton from one face is concomitant with delivery from the opposite face by the conjugate acid of the second enzymic base.