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Selenium is an essential trace element incorporated into selenoproteins as selenocysteine. Selenocysteine (Sec) lyases (SCLs) and cysteine (Cys) desulfurases (CDs) catalyze the removal of selenium or sulfur from Sec or Cys, respectively, and generally accept both substrates. Intriguingly, human SCL (hSCL) is specific for Sec even though the only difference between Sec and Cys is a single chalcogen atom.The crystal structure of hSCL was recently determined and gain-of-function protein variants that also could accept Cys as substrate were identified. To obtain mechanistic insight into the chemical basis for its substrate discrimination, we here report time-resolved spectroscopic studies comparing the reactions of the Sec-specific wild-type hSCL and the gain-of-function D146K/H389T variant, when given Cys as a substrate. The data are interpreted in light of other studies of SCL/CD enzymes and offer mechanistic insight into the function of the wild-type enzyme. Based on these results and previously available data we propose a reaction mechanism whereby the Sec over Cys specificity is achieved using a combination of chemical and physico-mechanical control mechanisms.


Ann-Louise Johansson, Ruairi Collins, Elias S J Arnér, Peter Brzezinski, Martin Högbom. Biochemical discrimination between selenium and sulfur 2: mechanistic investigation of the selenium specificity of human selenocysteine lyase. PloS one. 2012;7(1):e30528

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PMID: 22291978

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