The "ribulose phosphate binding" superfamily defined by the Structural Classification of Proteins (SCOP) database is considered the result of divergent evolution from a common (β/α)8-barrel ancestor. The superfamily includes D-ribulose 5-phosphate 3-epimerase (RPE), orotidine 5′-monophosphate decarboxylase (OMPDC), and 3-keto-L-gulonate 6-phosphate decarboxylase (KGPDC), members of the OMPDC suprafamily, as well as enzymes involved in histidine and tryptophan biosynthesis that utilize phosphorylated metabolites as substrates. We now report studies of the functional and structural relationships of RPE to the members of the superfamily. As suggested by the results of crystallographic studies of the RPEs from rice [Jelakovic, S., Kopriva, S., Suss, K. H., and Schulz, G. E. (2003) J. Mol. Biol. 326, 127-35] and Plasmodium falciparum [Caruthers, J., Bosch, J., Bucker, F., Van Voorhis, W., Myler, P., Worthey, E., Mehlin, C., Boni, E., De Titta, G., Luft, J., Kalyuzhniy, O., Anderson, L., Zucker, F., Soltis, M., and Hol, W. G. J. (2006) Proteins 62, 338-42], the RPE from Streptococcus pyogenes is activated by Zn2+ which binds with a stoichiometry of one ion per polypeptide. Although wild type RPE has a high affinity for Zn2+ and inactive apoenzyme cannot be prepared, the affinity for Zn2+ is decreased by alanine substitutions for the two histidine residues that coordinate the Zn2+ ion (H34A and H67A); these mutant proteins can be prepared in an inactive, metal-free form and activated by exogenous Zn 2+. The crystal structure of the RPE was solved at 1.8 Å resolution in the presence of D-xylitol 5-phosphate, an inert analogue of the D-xylulose 5-phosphate substrate. This structure suggests that the 2,3-enediolate intermediate in the 1,1-proton transfer reaction is stabilized by bidentate coordination to the Zn2+ that also is liganded to His 34, Asp 36, His 67, and Asp 176; the carboxylate groups of the Asp residues are positioned also to function as the acid/base catalysts. Although the conformation of the bound analogue resembles those of ligands bound in the active sites of OMPDC and KGPDC, the identities of the active site residues that coordinate the essential Zn2+ and participate as acid/base catalysts are not conserved. We conclude that only the phosphate binding motif located at the ends of the seventh and eighth β-strands of the (β/α) 8-barrel is functionally conserved among RPE, OMPDC, and KGPDC, consistent with the hypothesis that the members of the "ribulose phosphate binding" (β/α)8-barrel "superfamily" as defined by SCOP have not evolved by evolutionary processes involving the intact (β/α)8-barrel. Instead, this "superfamily" may result from assembly from smaller modules, including the conserved phosphate binding motif associated with the C-terminal (β/α) 2-quarter barrel.
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