Ornithine decarboxylase (ODC) is a pyridoxal 5′-phosphate dependent enzyme that catalyzes the first committed step in the biosynthesis of polyamines. ODC is a proven drug target for the treatment of African sleeping sickness. The enzyme is an obligate homodimer, and the two identical active sites are formed at the dimer interface. Alanine scanning mutagenesis of dimer interface residues in Trypanosoma brucei ODC was undertaken to determine the energetic contribution of these residues to subunit association. Twenty-three mutant enzymes were analyzed by analytical ultracentrifugation, and none of the mutations were found to cause a greater than 1 kcal/mol decrease in dimer stability. These data suggest that the energetics of the interaction may be distributed across the interface. Most significantly, many of the mutations had large effects (ΔΔG kcat/Km > 2.5 kcal/mol) on the catalytic efficiency of the enzyme. Residues that affected activity included those in or near the substrate binding site but also a number of residues that are distant (15-20 Å) from this site. These data provide evidence that long-range energetic coupling of interface residues to the active site is essential for enzyme function, even though structural changes upon ligand binding to wild-type ODC are limited to local conformational changes in the active site. The ODC dimer interface appears to be optimized for catalytic function and not for dimer stability. Thus, small molecules directed to the ODC interfaces could impact biological function without having to overcome the difficult energetic barrier of dissociating the interacting partners.
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