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The Molecular Basis of Lysine Acetylation: Addition, Removal, and Recognition


Davenport, Andrew M. (2016) The Molecular Basis of Lysine Acetylation: Addition, Removal, and Recognition. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/Z9BG2KWK.


Acetyltransferases and deacetylases catalyze the addition and removal, respectively, of acetyl groups to the epsilon-amino group of protein lysine residues. This modification can affect the function of a protein through several means, including the recruitment of specific binding partners called acetyl-lysine readers. Acetyltransferases, deacetylases, and acetyl-lysine readers have emerged as crucial regulators of biological processes and prominent targets for the treatment of human disease. This work describes a combination of structural, biochemical, biophysical, cell-biological, and organismal studies undertaken on a set of proteins that cumulatively include all steps of the acetylation process: the acetyltransferase MEC-17, the deacetylase SIRT1, and the acetyl-lysine reader DPF2. Tubulin acetylation by MEC-17 is associated with stable, long-lived microtubule structures. We determined the crystal structure of the catalytic domain of human MEC-17 in complex with the cofactor acetyl-CoA. The structure in combination with an extensive enzymatic analysis of MEC-17 mutants identified residues for cofactor and substrate recognition and activity. A large, evolutionarily conserved hydrophobic surface patch distal to the active site was shown to be necessary for catalysis, suggesting that specificity is achieved by interactions with the alpha-tubulin substrate that extend outside of the modified surface loop. Experiments in C. elegans showed that while MEC-17 is required for touch sensitivity, MEC-17 enzymatic activity is dispensible for this behavior. SIRT1 deacetylates a wide range of substrates, including p53, NF-kappaB, FOXO transcription factors, and PGC-1-alpha, with roles in cellular processes ranging from energy metabolism to cell survival. SIRT1 activity is uniquely controlled by a C-terminal regulatory segment (CTR). Here we present crystal structures of the catalytic domain of human SIRT1 in complex with the CTR in an apo form and in complex with a cofactor and a pseudo-substrate peptide. The catalytic domain adopts the canonical sirtuin fold. The CTR forms a beta-hairpin structure that complements the beta-sheet of the NAD^+-binding domain, covering an essentially invariant, hydrophobic surface. A comparison of the apo and cofactor bound structures revealed conformational changes throughout catalysis, including a rotation of a smaller subdomain with respect to the larger NAD^+-binding subdomain. A biochemical analysis identified key residues in the active site, an inhibitory role for the CTR, and distinct structural features of the CTR that mediate binding and inhibition of the SIRT1 catalytic domain. DPF2 represses myeloid differentiation in acute myelogenous leukemia. Finally, we solved the crystal structure of the tandem PHD domain of human DPF2. We showed that DPF2 preferentially binds H3 tail peptides acetylated at Lys14, and binds H4 tail peptides with no preference for acetylation state. Through a structural and mutational analysis we identify the molecular basis of histone recognition. We propose a model for the role of DPF2 in AML and identify the DPF2 tandem PHD finger domain as a promising novel target for anti-leukemia therapeutics.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Posttranslational modification, acetylation, X-ray crystallography, enzymology
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Chemistry and Chemical Engineering
Major Option:Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Hoelz, Andre
Thesis Committee:
  • Rees, Douglas C. (chair)
  • Jensen, Grant J.
  • Deshaies, Raymond Joseph
  • Hoelz, Andre
Defense Date:27 July 2015
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:09012015-173735253
Persistent URL:
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription 2. Journal article included in thesis: Structural and functional characterization of the α-tubulin acetyltransferase MEC-17, Davenport et. al. 4. Journal article included in thesis: Structural and functional analysis of human SIRT1, Davenport et. al.
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:9133
Deposited By: Andrew Davenport
Deposited On:29 Oct 2015 17:31
Last Modified:04 Oct 2019 00:09

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