Expanding tRNA recognition of a tRNA synthetase by a single amino acid change

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2003 May 13;100(10):5676-81. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0631525100. Epub 2003 May 1.


Aspartyl-tRNA synthetase (AspRS) occurs in two types: the discriminating enzyme (D-AspRS) forms only Asp-tRNA(Asp), whereas the nondiscriminating enzyme (ND-AspRS) also synthesizes Asp-tRNA(Asn), which is a required intermediate for protein synthesis in many organisms. We attempted to expand the tRNA recognition of the discriminating Thermococcus kodakaraensis AspRS to that of a ND-AspRS by in vitro mutagenesis. An alignment of 26 archaeal AspRS proteins revealed two positions (26 and 85 in the T. kodakaraensis sequence) whose amino acid identity changes according to the enzymes' tRNA specificity. In their anticodon-binding domain, D-AspRS proteins contain W26 (or Q26) and K85, compared with H26 and P85 in the ND-AspRSs. T. kodakaraensis AspRS gained the ability to form Asp-tRNA(Asn) in vitro when the W26H or K85P changes were introduced independently or in combination. In the aminoacylation of tRNA(Asn) or tRNA(Asp) transcripts, the mutant enzymes displayed at least a 100- to 500-fold change in tRNA specificity, as judged by the ratio of the k(cat)K(m) values of Asp-tRNA(Asp) vs. Asp-tRNA(Asn) formation. That T. kodakaraensis mutant AspRSs mischarge tRNA(Asn) was also manifested in the higher level (1.7%) of aspartylation of unfractionated Pyrococcus tRNA compared with that achieved by the wild-type enzyme (0.9%). Northern blot analysis of the Asp-tRNA separated by acidurea gel electrophoresis confirmed the in vitro synthesis of Asp-tRNA(Asn). A structure-based model points to a direct interaction of K85 in T. kodakaraensis AspRS with the anticodon nucleotide C36 of tRNA(Asp). Thus, a switch between D-AspRS and ND-AspRS enzymes could have evolved with only limited amino acid changes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Amino Acid Substitution
  • Archaea / classification
  • Archaea / enzymology
  • Asparagine
  • Aspartate-tRNA Ligase / chemistry*
  • Aspartate-tRNA Ligase / metabolism*
  • Binding Sites
  • Kinetics
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutagenesis, Site-Directed
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation
  • Phylogeny
  • Pyrococcus / classification
  • Pyrococcus / enzymology
  • RNA, Transfer / chemistry
  • RNA, Transfer / metabolism*
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Substrate Specificity
  • Thermococcus / classification
  • Thermococcus / enzymology


  • Asparagine
  • RNA, Transfer
  • Aspartate-tRNA Ligase