Turning on ribonucleotide reductase by light-initiated amino acid radical generation

Michelle C.Y. Chang, Cyril S. Yee, Jo Anne Stubbe, Daniel G. Nocera

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Ribonucleotide reductases (RNRs) catalyze the conversion of nucleotides to deoxynucleotides in all organisms, providing the monomeric precursors required for DNA replication and repair. The class I RNRs are composed of two subunits; the R1 subunit contains the active site for nucleotide reduction and allosteric effector binding sites, whereas the R2 subunit houses the essential diirontyrosyl (Y·) radical cofactor. A major unresolved issue is the mechanism by which the tyrosyl radical on R2 (Y122, Escherichia coli numbering) reversibly generates the transient thiyl radical (S·) on R1 that initiates nucleotide reduction. This intersubunit radical initiation is postulated to occur through a defined pathway involving conserved aromatic amino acids (R2: Y122, W48, Y356; R1: Y731, Y730) over a long distance of 35 Å. A 20-mer peptide identical to the C-terminal tail of R2 (356-375) and containing Y356 is a competitive inhibitor with respect to R2, and it effectively blocks nucleotide reduction. We now report that a 21-mer peptide, in which a tryptophan has been incorporated at the N terminus of the 20th mer, can replace the R2 subunit and initiate nucleotide reduction by photoinitiated radical generation. The deoxynucleotide generated depends on the presence of allosteric effector and is pathway-dependent. Replacement of Y731 of R2 with phenylalanine prevents deoxynucleotide formation. These results provide direct evidence for the chemical competence of aromatic amino acid radicals and the importance of Y356 in R2 in the radical initiation process of the class I RNRs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6882-6887
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number18
StatePublished - May 4 2004
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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