Protein-sulfenic acids: diverse roles for an unlikely player in enzyme catalysis and redox regulation

Biochemistry. 1999 Nov 23;38(47):15407-16. doi: 10.1021/bi992025k.


While it has been known for more than 20 years that unusually stable cysteine-sulfenic acid (Cys-SOH) derivatives can be introduced in selected proteins by mild oxidation, only recently have chemical and crystallographic evidence for functional Cys-SOH been presented with native proteins such as NADH peroxidase and NADH oxidase, nitrile hydratase, and the hORF6 and AhpC peroxiredoxins. In addition, Cys-SOH forms of protein tyrosine phosphatases and glutathione reductase have been suggested to play key roles in the reversible inhibition of these enzymes during tyrosine phosphorylation-dependent signal transduction events and nitrosative stress, respectively. Substantial chemical data have also been presented which implicate Cys-SOH in redox regulation of transcription factors such as Fos and Jun (activator protein-1) and bovine papillomavirus-1 E2 protein. Functionally, the Cys-SOHs in NADH peroxidase, NADH oxidase, and the peroxiredoxins serve as either catalytically essential redox centers or transient intermediates during peroxide reduction. In nitrile hydratase, the active-site Cys-SOH functions in both iron coordination and NO binding but does not play any catalytic redox role. In Fos and Jun and the E2 protein, on the other hand, a key Cys-SH serves as a sensor for intracellular redox status; reversible oxidation to Cys-SOH as proposed inhibits the corresponding DNA binding activity. These functional Cys-SOHs have roles in diverse cellular processes, including signal transduction, oxygen metabolism and the oxidative stress response, and transcriptional regulation, as well as in the industrial production of acrylamide, and their detailed analyses are beginning to provide the chemical foundation necessary for understanding protein-SOH stabilization and function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Catalysis
  • Cysteine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Cysteine / chemistry
  • Cysteine / metabolism
  • Enzymes / chemistry*
  • Enzymes / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Multienzyme Complexes / chemistry
  • Multienzyme Complexes / metabolism
  • NADH, NADPH Oxidoreductases / chemistry
  • NADH, NADPH Oxidoreductases / metabolism
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Peroxidases / chemistry
  • Peroxidases / metabolism
  • Protein Tyrosine Phosphatases / chemistry
  • Protein Tyrosine Phosphatases / metabolism
  • Sulfenic Acids / chemistry*
  • Sulfenic Acids / metabolism*


  • Enzymes
  • Multienzyme Complexes
  • Sulfenic Acids
  • Peroxidases
  • NAD+ peroxidase
  • NADH oxidase
  • NADH, NADPH Oxidoreductases
  • Protein Tyrosine Phosphatases
  • cysteinesulfenic acid
  • Cysteine