Studying the evolution of catalytically promiscuous enzymes like those from the N-succinylamino acid racemase/o-succinylbenzoate synthase (NSAR/OSBS) subfamily can reveal mechanisms by which new functions evolve. Some enzymes in this subfamily have only OSBS activity, while others catalyze OSBS and NSAR reactions. We characterized several NSAR/OSBS subfamily enzymes as a step toward determining the structural basis for evolving NSAR activity. Three enzymes were promiscuous, like most other characterized NSAR/OSBS subfamily enzymes. However, Alicyclobacillus acidocaldarius OSBS (AaOSBS) efficiently catalyzes OSBS activity but lacks detectable NSAR activity. Competitive inhibition and molecular modeling show that AaOSBS binds N-succinylphenylglycine with moderate affinity in a site that overlaps its normal substrate. On the basis of possible steric conflicts identified by molecular modeling and sequence conservation within the NSAR/OSBS subfamily, we identified one mutation, Y299I, that increased NSAR activity from undetectable to 1.2 × 10 2 M -1 s -1 without affecting OSBS activity. This mutation does not appear to affect binding affinity but instead affects k cat , by reorienting the substrate or modifying conformational changes to allow both catalytic lysines to access the proton that is moved during the reaction. This is the first site known to affect reaction specificity in the NSAR/OSBS subfamily. However, this gain of activity was obliterated by a second mutation, M18F. Epistatic interference by M18F was unexpected because a phenylalanine at this position is important in another NSAR/OSBS enzyme. Together, modest NSAR activity of Y299I AaOSBS and epistasis between sites 18 and 299 indicate that additional sites influenced the evolution of NSAR reaction specificity in the NSAR/OSBS subfamily.
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