Protein science : a publication of the Protein Society

Thioesterases: a new perspective based on their primary and tertiary structures.

PMID 20506386


Thioesterases (TEs) are classified into EC through EC based on their activities on different substrates, with many remaining unclassified (EC 3.1.2.-). Analysis of primary and tertiary structures of known TEs casts a new light on this enzyme group. We used strong primary sequence conservation based on experimentally proved proteins as the main criterion, followed by verification with tertiary structure superpositions, mechanisms, and catalytic residue positions, to accurately define TE families. At present, TEs fall into 23 families almost completely unrelated to each other by primary structure. It is assumed that all members of the same family have essentially the same tertiary structure; however, TEs in different families can have markedly different folds and mechanisms. Conversely, the latter sometimes have very similar tertiary structures and catalytic mechanisms despite being only slightly or not at all related by primary structure, indicating that they have common distant ancestors and can be grouped into clans. At present, four clans encompass 12 TE families. The new constantly updated ThYme (Thioester-active enzYmes) database contains TE primary and tertiary structures, classified into families and clans that are different from those currently found in the literature or in other databases. We review all types of TEs, including those cleaving CoA, ACP, glutathione, and other protein molecules, and we discuss their structures, functions, and mechanisms.