Aspartoacylase catalyzes the deacetylation of N-acetylaspartic acid (NAA) to produce acetate and L-aspartate and is the only brain enzyme that has been shown to effectively metabolize NAA. Although the exact role of this enzymatic reaction has not yet been completely elucidated, the metabolism of NAA appears to be necessary in the formation of myelin lipids, and defects in this enzyme lead to Canavan disease, a fatal neurological disorder. The low catalytic activity and inherent instability observed with the Escherichla coli-expressed form of aspartoacylase suggested the need for a suitable eukaryotic expression system that would be capable of producing a fully functional, mature enzyme. Human aspartoacylase has now been successfully expressed in Pichia pastoris. While the expression yields are lower than in E. coli, the purified enzyme is significantly more stable. This enzyme form has the same substrate specificity but is 150-fold more active than the E. coli-expressed enzyme. The molecular weight of the purified enzyme, measured by mass spectrometry, is higher than predicted, suggesting the presence of some post-translational modifications. Deglycosylation of aspartoacylase or mutation at the glycosylation site causes decreased enzyme stability and diminished catalytic activity. A carbohydrate component has been removed and characterized by mass spectrometry. In addition to this carbohydrate moiety, the enzyme has also been shown to contain one zinc atom per subunit. Chelation studies to remove the zinc result in a reversible loss of catalytic activity, thus establishing aspartoacylase as a zinc metalloenzyme.
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