The activation loop and substrate-binding cleft of glutaminase C are allosterically coupled

J Biol Chem. 2020 Jan 31;295(5):1328-1337. doi: 10.1074/jbc.RA119.010314. Epub 2019 Dec 23.


The glutaminase C (GAC) isoform of mitochondrial glutaminase is overexpressed in many cancer cells and therefore represents a potential therapeutic target. Understanding the regulation of GAC activity has been guided by the development of spectroscopic approaches that measure glutaminase activity in real time. Previously, we engineered a GAC protein (GAC(F327W)) in which a tryptophan residue is substituted for phenylalanine in an activation loop to explore the role of this loop in enzyme activity. We showed that the fluorescence emission of Trp-327 is enhanced in response to activator binding, but quenched by inhibitors of the BPTES class that bind to the GAC tetramer and contact the activation loop, thereby constraining it in an inactive conformation. In the present work, we took advantage of a tryptophan substitution at position 471, proximal to the GAC catalytic site, to examine the conformational coupling between the activation loop and the substrate-binding cleft, separated by ∼16 Å. Comparison of glutamine binding in the presence or absence of the BPTES analog CB-839 revealed a reciprocal relationship between the constraints imposed on the activation loop position and the affinity of GAC for substrate. Binding of the inhibitor weakened the affinity of GAC for glutamine, whereas activating anions such as Pi increased this affinity. These results indicate that the conformations of the activation loop and the substrate-binding cleft in GAC are allosterically coupled and that this coupling determines substrate affinity and enzymatic activity and explains the activities of CB-839, which is currently in clinical trials.

Keywords: CB-839; cancer; conformational change; fluorescence; fluorescence quenching; glutaminase; glutamine metabolism; glutaminolysis; protein self-assembly; quaternary structure; small molecule; substrate specificity; tryptophan.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Allosteric Regulation / genetics
  • Allosteric Site / genetics
  • Amino Acid Substitution / genetics
  • Animals
  • Benzeneacetamides / pharmacology*
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Catalytic Domain / genetics
  • Glutaminase / chemistry*
  • Glutaminase / metabolism
  • Glutamine / metabolism*
  • Kinetics
  • Mice
  • Mitochondria / chemistry
  • Mitochondria / enzymology*
  • Models, Molecular
  • Mutation
  • Protein Isoforms
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary / genetics
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Sulfides / pharmacology
  • Thiadiazoles / pharmacology*


  • Benzeneacetamides
  • CB-839
  • Protein Isoforms
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Sulfides
  • Thiadiazoles
  • bis-2-(5-phenylacetamido-1,2,4-thiadiazol-2-yl)ethyl sulfide
  • Glutamine
  • Glutaminase