N-acetylneuraminic acid (NeuNAc), the most naturally abundant sialic acid, is incorporated as the terminal residue of mammalian cell surface glycoconjugates and acts as a key facilitator of cellular recognition, adhesion and signalling. Several pathogenic bacteria similarly express NeuNAc on their cell surfaces, allowing evasion of their host's immune system. Prokaryotic NeuNAc biosynthesis proceeds via condensation of phosphoenolpyruvate (PEP) with N-acetylmannosamine (ManNAc), a reaction catalysed by the domain-swapped homodimeric enzyme, N-acetylneuraminic acid synthase (NeuNAcS). Conversely, the mammalian orthologue, N-acetylneuraminic acid 9-phosphate synthase (NeuNAc 9-PS) utilises the phosphorylated substrate N-acetylmannosamine 6-phosphate (ManNAc 6-P) in catalysis. Here we report an investigation into the determinants of substrate specificity of human NeuNAc 9-PS, using model-guided mutagenesis to delineate binding interactions with ManNAc 6-P. Modelling predicts the formation of a domain-swapped homodimer as observed for bacterial variants, which was supported by experimental small angle X-ray scattering. A number of conserved residues which may play key roles in the selection of ManNAc 6-P were identified and substituted for alanine to assess their function. Lys290 and Thr80 were identified as a putative phosphate binding pair, with the cationic lysine residue extending into the active site from the adjacent chain of the dimeric enzyme. Substitution of these residues results in a significant loss of activity and reduced affinity for ManNAc 6-P. These residues, along with the electropositive β2α2 loop, are likely to facilitate the PEP dependent binding and stabilisation of ManNAc 6-P. By utilising a phosphorylated sugar-substrate, the mammalian enzyme gains considerable catalytic affinity advantage over its bacterial counterpart.
Keywords: Homo sapiens; Homology model; N-acetylmannosamine 6-phosphate; N-acetylneuraminic acid; Substrate selectivity.
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