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Glyoxalase I forms part of the glyoxalase pathway that detoxifies reactive aldehydes such as methylglyoxal, using the spontaneously formed glutathione hemithioacetal as substrate. All known eukaryotic enzymes contain zinc as their metal cofactor, whereas the Escherichia coli glyoxalase I contains nickel. Database mining and sequence analysis identified putative glyoxalase I genes in the eukaryotic human parasites Leishmania major, Leishmania infantum, and Trypanosoma cruzi, with highest similarity to the cyanobacterial enzymes. Characterization of recombinant L. major glyoxalase I showed it to be unique among the eukaryotic enzymes in sharing the dependence of the E. coli enzyme on nickel. The parasite enzyme showed little activity with glutathione hemithioacetal substrates but was 200-fold more active with hemithioacetals formed from the unique trypanosomatid thiol trypanothione. L. major glyoxalase I also was insensitive to glutathione derivatives that are potent inhibitors of all other characterized glyoxalase I enzymes. This substrate specificity is distinct from that of the human enzyme and is reflected in the modification in the L. major sequence of a region of the human protein that interacts with the glycyl-carboxyl moiety of glutathione, a group that is conjugated to spermidine in trypanothione. This trypanothione-dependent glyoxalase I is therefore an attractive focus for additional biochemical and genetic investigation as a possible target for rational drug design.
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