Exotic Ribosomal Enzymology

  • Date:
  • Location: A1:111a, BMC, Husargatan 3, Uppsala
  • Doctoral student: Liljeruhm, Josefine
  • About the dissertation
  • Organiser: Molekylärbiologi
  • Contact person: Liljeruhm, Josefine
  • Disputation

This thesis clarifies intriguing enzymology of the ribosome, the multiRNA/multiprotein complex that catalyzes protein synthesis (translation).

The large ribosomal RNAs (23S and 16S rRNAs in E. coli) are post-transcriptionally modified by many specific modification enzymes, yet the functions of the modifications remain enigmatic. A deeper insight into two of the 23S rRNA S-adenosyl-methionine-requiring methyltransferase enzymes, RlmM and RlmJ, was given by investigating substrate specificity in vitro. Both enzymes were able to methylate in vitro-transcribed, modification-free, protein-free, 2659-nucleotide-long 23S rRNA. Furthermore, RlmM was able to methylate the 611-nucleotide-long Domain V of the 23S rRNA alone and RlmJ could modify the A2030 with only 25 surrounding nucleotides.

Translation is evolutionary optimized to incorporate L-amino acids to the exclusion of D-amino acids in the cell. To understand how, and how to engineer around this restriction for pharmacological applications, detailed kinetics of ribosomal dipeptide formation with D- versus L-phenylalanine-tRNA were determined. This was done by varying the concentrations of EF-Tu (which delivers aminoacyl-tRNAs to the ribosome) and the ribosome, as well as changing the tRNA adaptor. Binding to EF-Tu was shown to be rate limiting for D-Phe-tRNA at a low concentration of EF-Tu. Surprisingly, at a higher (physiological) concentration of EF-Tu, binding and subsequent dipeptide synthesis became so efficient that D-Phe incorporation became competitive with L-Phe, and accommodation/peptide bond formation was unmasked as a new rate-limiting step. This highlighted the importance of D-aminoacyl-tRNA deacylase in restricting translation with D-amino acids in vivo.

Although polypeptides are intrinsically colorless, it is remarkable that evolution has nevertheless enabled ribosomes to synthesize highly colored proteins (chromoproteins). Such eukaryotic proteins reside in coral reefs and undergo self-catalyzed, intramolecular, chromophore formation by reacting with oxygen in a manner highly similar to that of green fluorescent protein. The potential utility of different colored chromoproteins in E. coli was analyzed via codon-optimized over-expression and quantification of maturation times, color intensities and cellular fitness costs. No chromoprotein was found to have the combined characteristics of fast maturation, intense color and low fitness cost. However, semi-rational mutagenesis created different colored variants with identical fitness costs suitable for competition assays and teaching.