The tryptophan synthase multienzyme complex: exploring structure-function relationships with X-ray crystallography and mutagenesis

Biotechnology (N Y). 1990 Jan;8(1):27-32. doi: 10.1038/nbt0190-27.


The bifunctional tryptophan synthase alpha 2 beta 2 complex that catalyzes the final two reactions in tryptophan biosynthesis is a classic example of a multienzyme complex that "channels" a metabolic intermediate (indole) between two active sites. The three-dimensional structure of the alpha 2 beta 2 complex from Salmonella typhimurium reveals that the four polypeptide subunits are arranged in an extended alpha beta beta alpha order forming a complex 150 A long. The active sites of the neighboring alpha and beta subunits are separated by about 30 A and appear to be connected by a tunnel, which may facilitate the intramolecular transfer of indole. The active site of the alpha subunit, which is centrally located near one end of an eight-fold alpha/beta barrel structure, contains the sites of most of the missense mutations which were identified as key residues by Yanofsky and colleagues in early genetic studies. Site-directed mutagenesis is being used to replace residues found in the active sites of the alpha and beta subunits in order to probe the mechanism of catalysis. Recombinant DNA technology should also be useful in analyzing protein-protein interaction, protein folding and the channeling phenomenon.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Crystallography
  • Mutation*
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Conformation
  • Salmonella typhimurium / enzymology*
  • Tryptophan Synthase / genetics
  • Tryptophan Synthase / metabolism*


  • Tryptophan Synthase