Compensating for the absence of selenocysteine in high-molecular weight thioredoxin reductases: the electrophilic activation hypothesis.

PMID 24490974


Mammalian thioredoxin reductase (TR) is a pyridine disulfide oxidoreductase that uses the rare amino acid selenocysteine (Sec) in place of the more commonly used amino acid cysteine (Cys). Selenium is a Janus-faced element because it is both highly nucleophilic and highly electrophilic. Cys orthologs of Sec-containing enzymes may compensate for the absence of a Sec residue by making the active site Cys residue more (i) nucleophilic, (ii) electrophilic, or (iii) reactive by increasing both S-nucleophilicity and S-electrophilicity. It has already been shown that the Cys ortholog TR from Drosophila melanogaster (DmTR) has increased S-nucleophilicity [Gromer, S., Johansson, L., Bauer, H., Arscott, L. D., Rauch, S., Ballou, D. P., Williams, C. H., Jr., Schrimer, R. H., and Arnér, E. S (2003) Active sites of thioredoxin reductases: Why selenoproteins? Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 100, 12618-12623]. Here we present evidence that DmTR also enhances the electrophilicity of Cys490 through the use of an "electrophilic activation" mechanism. This mechanism is proposed to work by polarizing the disulfide bond that occurs between Cys489 and Cys490 in the C-terminal redox center by the placement of a positive charge near Cys489. This polarization renders the sulfur atom of Cys490 electron deficient and enhances the rate of thiol/disulfide exchange that occurs between the N- and C-terminal redox centers. Our hypothesis was developed by using a strategy of homocysteine (hCys) for Cys substitution in the Cys-Cys redox dyad of DmTR to differentiate the function of each Cys residue. The results show that hCys could substitute for Cys490 with little loss of thioredoxin reductase activity, but that substitution of hCys for Cys489 resulted in a 238-fold reduction in activity. We hypothesize that replacement of Cys489 with hCys destroys an interaction between the sulfur atom of Cys489 and His464 crucial for the proposed electrophilic activation mechanism. This electrophilic activation serves as a compensatory mechanism in the absence of the more electrophilic Sec residue. We present an argument for the importance of S-electrophilicity in Cys orthologs of selenoenzymes.