Coevolution of specificity determinants in eukaryotic glutamyl- and glutaminyl-tRNA synthetases

J Mol Biol. 2014 Oct 23;426(21):3619-33. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2014.08.006. Epub 2014 Aug 19.


The glutaminyl-tRNA synthetase (GlnRS) enzyme, which pairs glutamine with tRNA(Gln) for protein synthesis, evolved by gene duplication in early eukaryotes from a nondiscriminating glutamyl-tRNA synthetase (GluRS) that aminoacylates both tRNA(Gln) and tRNA(Glu) with glutamate. This ancient GluRS also separately differentiated to exclude tRNA(Gln) as a substrate, and the resulting discriminating GluRS and GlnRS further acquired additional protein domains assisting function in cis (the GlnRS N-terminal Yqey domain) or in trans (the Arc1p protein associating with GluRS). These added domains are absent in contemporary bacterial GlnRS and GluRS. Here, using Saccharomyces cerevisiae enzymes as models, we find that the eukaryote-specific protein domains substantially influence amino acid binding, tRNA binding and aminoacylation efficiency, but they play no role in either specific nucleotide readout or discrimination against noncognate tRNA. Eukaryotic tRNA(Gln) and tRNA(Glu) recognition determinants are found in equivalent positions and are mutually exclusive to a significant degree, with key nucleotides located adjacent to portions of the protein structure that differentiated during the evolution of archaeal nondiscriminating GluRS to GlnRS. These findings provide important corroboration for the evolutionary model and suggest that the added eukaryotic domains arose in response to distinctive selective pressures associated with the greater complexity of the eukaryotic translational apparatus. We also find that the affinity of GluRS for glutamate is significantly increased when Arc1p is not associated with the enzyme. This is consistent with the lower concentration of intracellular glutamate and the dissociation of the Arc1p:GluRS complex upon the diauxic shift to respiratory conditions.

Keywords: allostery; protein translation; protein–RNA recognition; transfer RNA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Allosteric Site
  • Amino Acids / chemistry
  • Amino Acyl-tRNA Synthetases / chemistry*
  • Anticodon / chemistry
  • Base Sequence
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Glutamate-tRNA Ligase / chemistry*
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation
  • Phylogeny
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Proteins / chemistry
  • RNA / chemistry
  • RNA, Transfer / chemistry*
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / enzymology
  • Sequence Homology, Nucleic Acid


  • Amino Acids
  • Anticodon
  • Proteins
  • RNA
  • RNA, Transfer
  • Amino Acyl-tRNA Synthetases
  • Glutamate-tRNA Ligase
  • glutaminyl-tRNA synthetase