Structural control of caspase-generated glutamyl-tRNA synthetase by appended noncatalytic WHEP domains

J Biol Chem. 2018 Jun 8;293(23):8843-8860. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M117.807503. Epub 2018 Apr 11.


Aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases are ubiquitous, evolutionarily conserved enzymes catalyzing the conjugation of amino acids onto cognate tRNAs. During eukaryotic evolution, tRNA synthetases have been the targets of persistent structural modifications. These modifications can be additive, as in the evolutionary acquisition of noncatalytic domains, or subtractive, as in the generation of truncated variants through regulated mechanisms such as proteolytic processing, alternative splicing, or coding region polyadenylation. A unique variant is the human glutamyl-prolyl-tRNA synthetase (EPRS) consisting of two fused synthetases joined by a linker containing three copies of the WHEP domain (termed by its presence in tryptophanyl-, histidyl-, and glutamyl-prolyl-tRNA synthetases). Here, we identify site-selective proteolysis as a mechanism that severs the linkage between the EPRS synthetases in vitro and in vivo Caspase action targeted Asp-929 in the third WHEP domain, thereby separating the two synthetases. Using a neoepitope antibody directed against the newly exposed C terminus, we demonstrate EPRS cleavage at Asp-929 in vitro and in vivo Biochemical and biophysical characterizations of the N-terminally generated EPRS proteoform containing the glutamyl-tRNA synthetase and most of the linker, including two WHEP domains, combined with structural analysis by small-angle neutron scattering, revealed a role for the WHEP domains in modulating conformations of the catalytic core and GSH-S-transferase-C-terminal-like (GST-C) domain. WHEP-driven conformational rearrangement altered GST-C domain interactions and conferred distinct oligomeric states in solution. Collectively, our results reveal long-range conformational changes imposed by the WHEP domains and illustrate how noncatalytic domains can modulate the global structure of tRNA synthetases in complex eukaryotic systems.

Keywords: EPRS; aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase; aminoacylation; biophysics; caspase; glutamyl-prolyl-tRNA synthetase; microscale thermophoresis; neoepitope; neutron scattering; protein conformation; small-angle neutron scattering; transfer RNA (tRNA).

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acyl-tRNA Synthetases / chemistry
  • Amino Acyl-tRNA Synthetases / metabolism*
  • Caspases / metabolism*
  • Catalytic Domain
  • Glutamate-tRNA Ligase / chemistry
  • Glutamate-tRNA Ligase / metabolism
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Models, Molecular
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Domains
  • Proteolysis


  • Caspases
  • Amino Acyl-tRNA Synthetases
  • glutamyl-prolyl-tRNA synthetase
  • Glutamate-tRNA Ligase