Structure and function of the radical enzyme ribonucleotide reductase

Prog Biophys Mol Biol. 2001 Nov;77(3):177-268. doi: 10.1016/s0079-6107(01)00014-1.


Ribonucleotide reductases (RNRs) catalyze all new production in nature of deoxyribonucleotides for DNA synthesis by reducing the corresponding ribonucleotides. The reaction involves the action of a radical that is produced differently for different classes of the enzyme. Class I enzymes, which are present in eukaryotes and microorganisms, use an iron center to produce a stable tyrosyl radical that is stored in one of the subunits of the enzyme. The other classes are only present in microorganisms. Class II enzymes use cobalamin for radical generation and class III enzymes, which are found only in anaerobic organisms, use a glycyl radical. The reductase activity is in all three classes contained in enzyme subunits that have similar structures containing active site cysteines. The initiation of the reaction by removal of the 3'-hydrogen of the ribose by a transient cysteinyl radical is a common feature of the different classes of RNR. This cysteine is in all RNRs located on the tip of a finger loop inserted into the center of a special barrel structure. A wealth of structural and functional information on the class I and class III enzymes can now give detailed views on how these enzymes perform their task. The class I enzymes demonstrate a sophisticated pattern as to how the free radical is used in the reaction, in that it is only delivered to the active site at exactly the right moment. RNRs are also allosterically regulated, for which the structural molecular background is now starting to be revealed.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Allosteric Regulation
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Binding Sites
  • Catalysis
  • Drug Design
  • Humans
  • Iron / metabolism
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Protein Conformation
  • Ribonucleotide Reductases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Ribonucleotide Reductases / chemistry*
  • Ribonucleotide Reductases / classification
  • Ribonucleotide Reductases / metabolism*


  • Iron
  • Ribonucleotide Reductases