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Aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases (aaRS) are the enzymes that ensure faithful transmission of genetic information in all living cells, and are central to the developing technologies for expanding the capacity of the translation apparatus to incorporate nonstandard amino acids into proteins in vivo. The 24 known aaRS families are divided into two classes that exhibit functional evolutionary convergence. Each class features an active site domain with a common fold that binds ATP, the amino acid, and the 3'-terminus of tRNA, embellished by idiosyncratic further domains that bind distal portions of the tRNA and enhance specificity. Fidelity in the expression of the genetic code requires that the aaRS be selective for both amino acids and tRNAs, a substantial challenge given the presence of structurally very similar noncognate substrates of both types. Here we comprehensively review central themes concerning the architectures of the protein structures and the remarkable dual-substrate selectivities, with a view toward discerning the most important issues that still substantially limit our capacity for rational protein engineering. A suggested general approach to rational design is presented, which should yield insight into the identities of the protein-RNA motifs at the heart of the genetic code, while also offering a basis for improving the catalytic properties of engineered tRNA synthetases emerging from genetic selections.


John J Perona, Andrew Hadd. Structural diversity and protein engineering of the aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases. Biochemistry. 2012 Nov 6;51(44):8705-29

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PMID: 23075299

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