New glycyl radical enzymes catalysing key metabolic steps in anaerobic bacteria

Biol Chem. 2005 Oct;386(10):981-8. doi: 10.1515/BC.2005.114.


During the last decade, an increasing number of new enzymes containing glycyl radicals in their active sites have been identified and biochemically characterised. These include benzylsuccinate synthase (Bss), 4-hydroxyphenylacetate decarboxylase (Hpd) and the coenzyme B12-independent glycerol dehydratase (Gdh). These are involved in metabolic pathways as different as anaerobic toluene metabolism, fermentative production of p-cresol and glycerol fermentation. Some features of these newly discovered enzymes are described and compared with those of the previously known glycyl radical enzymes pyruvate formate-lyase (Pfl) and anaerobic ribonucleotide reductase (Nrd). Among the new enzymes, Bss and Hpd share the presence of small subunits, the function of which in the catalytic mechanisms is still enigmatic, and both enzymes contain metal centres in addition to the glycyl radical prosthetic group. The activating enzymes of the novel systems also deviate from the standard type, containing at least one additional Fe-S cluster. Finally, the available whole-genome sequences of an increasing number of strictly or facultative anaerobic bacteria revealed the presence of many more hitherto unknown glycyl radical enzyme (GRE) systems. Recent studies suggest that the particular types of these enzymes represent the ends of different evolutionary lines, which emerged early in evolution and diversified to yield remarkably versatile biocatalysts for chemical reactions that are otherwise difficult to perform in anoxic environments.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria, Anaerobic / enzymology*
  • Carbon-Carbon Lyases / chemistry
  • Carbon-Carbon Lyases / genetics
  • Carbon-Carbon Lyases / metabolism*
  • Carboxy-Lyases / chemistry
  • Carboxy-Lyases / genetics
  • Carboxy-Lyases / metabolism*
  • Glycine / metabolism*
  • Hydro-Lyases / chemistry
  • Hydro-Lyases / genetics
  • Hydro-Lyases / metabolism*


  • Carbon-Carbon Lyases
  • 4-hydroxyphenylacetate decarboxylase
  • Carboxy-Lyases
  • benzylsuccinate synthase
  • Hydro-Lyases
  • glycerol dehydratase
  • Glycine