The Journal of biological chemistry

O-acetylation and de-O-acetylation of sialic acids. Sialic acid esterases of diverse evolutionary origins have serine active sites and essential arginine residues.

PMID 2509478


We and others have recently described 9-O-acetyl-sialic acid esterase (9-O-Ac-SA esterase) activities that appear to be specific for removal of O-acetyl esters from the 9-position of naturally occurring sialic acids. We have now examined a variety of species for such enzymes and found them in vertebrates and higher invertebrates, but not in plants or in lower invertebrates. This evolutionary distribution correlates well with that of the sialic acids themselves. All of the 9-O-Ac-SA esterase activities tested were inhibited by diisopropyl fluorophosphate (DFP) in a dose-dependent fashion. This indicates that each of these enzymes has a serine active site similar to the well known serine esterases and serine proteases. Methyl esterification of the carboxyl group of 9-O-acetyl-N-acetylneuraminic acid significantly reduced the activity of all of the 9-O-Ac-SA esterases against the O-acetyl group. This indicates that each of these enzymes may recognize the negatively charged carboxyl group of the sialic acid. Enzymes that recognize anionic substrates frequently have an essential arginine residue (Riordan, J. F., McElvany, K. D., and Borders, C. L., Jr. (1977) Science 195, 884-886). We therefore studied the effects of the arginine-specific modifying reagents 2,3-butanedione and phenylglyoxal on 9-O-Ac-SA esterase activities from influenza C virus, human erythrocytes, rat liver, starfish gonads, and sea bass brain. All of these enzymes were inhibited in a dose-dependent fashion by both reagents, under conditions previously known to avoid nonspecific modification. In contrast, the typical serine proteases trypsin and kallikrein and the serine esterase acetylcholinesterase were not significantly affected, even by the highest concentrations of these reagents used. These data indicate that five 9-O-Ac-SA esterase activities from evolutionarily distinct origins all have serine active sites and essential arginine residues. We postulate that the arginine residue is involved in substrate recognition via the negatively charged carboxyl group of the sialic acids. Thus, these 9-O-Ac-SA esterase activities may be members of a previously undescribed class of serine esterase.

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2,3-Butanedione, analytical standard