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The Human SepSecS-tRNASec Complex Reveals the Mechanism of Selenocysteine Formation

Science  17 Jul 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5938, pp. 321-325
DOI: 10.1126/science.1173755

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Abstract

Selenocysteine is the only genetically encoded amino acid in humans whose biosynthesis occurs on its cognate transfer RNA (tRNA). O-Phosphoseryl-tRNA:selenocysteinyl-tRNA synthase (SepSecS) catalyzes the final step of selenocysteine formation by a poorly understood tRNA-dependent mechanism. The crystal structure of human tRNASec in complex with SepSecS, phosphoserine, and thiophosphate, together with in vivo and in vitro enzyme assays, supports a pyridoxal phosphate–dependent mechanism of Sec-tRNASec formation. Two tRNASec molecules, with a fold distinct from other canonical tRNAs, bind to each SepSecS tetramer through their 13–base pair acceptor-TΨC arm (where Ψ indicates pseudouridine). The tRNA binding is likely to induce a conformational change in the enzyme’s active site that allows a phosphoserine covalently attached to tRNASec, but not free phosphoserine, to be oriented properly for the reaction to occur.

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