The E. coli isozyme of γ-aminobutyrate aminotransferase (GABA-AT) is a tetrameric pyridoxal phosphate-dependent enzyme that catalyzes transamination between primary amines and α-keto acids. The roles of the active site residues V241, E211, and I50 in the GABA-AT mechanism have been probed by site-directed mutagenesis. The β-branched side chain of V241 facilitates formation of external aldimine intermediates with primary amine substrates, while E211 provides charge compensation of R398 selectively in the primary amine half-reaction and 150 forms a hydrophobic lid at the top of the substrate binding site. The structures of the I50Q, V241A, and E211S mutants were solved by X-ray crystallography to resolutions of 2.1, 2.5, and 2.52 Å, respectively. The structure of GABA-AT is similar in overall fold and active site structure to that of dialkylglycine decarboxylase, which catalyzes both transamination and decarboxylation half-reactions in its normal catalytic cycle. Therefore, an attempt was made to convert GABA-AT into a decarboxylation- dependent aminotransferase similar to dialkylglycine decarboxylase by systematic mutation of E. coli GABA-AT active site residues. Two of the twelve mutants presented, E211S/I50G/C77K and E211S/I50H/V80D, have ∼10-fold higher decarboxylation activities than the wild-type enzyme, and the E211S/I50H/V80D has formally changed the reaction specificity to that of a decarboxylase.
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