Catalysts for the Enzymatic Lipidation of Peptides

Yiwu Zheng, Ying Cong, Eric W. Schmidt, Satish K. Nair

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


ConspectusBiologically active peptides are a major growing class of drugs, but their therapeutic potential is constrained by several limitations including bioavailability and poor pharmacokinetics. The attachment of functional groups like lipids has proven to be a robust and effective strategy for improving their therapeutic potential. Biochemical and bioactivity-guided screening efforts have identified the cyanobactins as a large class of ribosomally synthesized and post-translationally modified peptides (RiPPs) that are modified with lipids. These lipids are attached by the F superfamily of peptide prenyltransferase enzymes that utilize 5-carbon (prenylation) or 10-carbon (geranylation) donors. The chemical structures of various cyanobactins initially showed isoprenoid attachments on Ser, Thr, or Tyr. Biochemical characterization of the F prenyltransferases from the corresponding clusters shows that the different enzymes have different acceptor residue specificities but are otherwise remarkably sequence tolerant. Hence, these enzymes are well suited for biotechnological applications. The crystal structure of the Tyr O-prenyltransferase PagF reveals that the F enzyme shares a domain architecture reminiscent of a canonical ABBA prenyltransferase fold but lacks secondary structural elements necessary to form an enclosed active site. Binding of either cyclic or linear peptides is sufficient to close the active site to allow for productive catalysis, explaining why these enzymes cannot use isolated amino acids as substrates.Almost all characterized isoprenylated cyanobactins are modified with 5-carbon isoprenoids. However, chemical characterization demonstrates that the piricyclamides are modified with a 10-carbon geranyl moiety, and in vitro reconstitution of the corresponding PirF shows that the enzyme is a geranyltransferase. Structural analysis of PirF shows an active site nearly identical with that of the PagF prenyltransferase but with a single amino acid substitution. Of note, mutation at this residue in PagF or PirF can completely switch the isoprenoid donor specificity of these enzymes. Recent efforts have resulted in significant expansion of the F family with enzymes identified that can carry out C-prenylations of Trp, N-prenylations of Trp, and bis-N-prenylations of Arg. Additional genome-guided efforts based on the sequence of F enzymes identify linear cyanobactins that are α-N-prenylated and α-C-methylated by a bifunctional prenyltransferase/methyltransferase fusion and a bis-α-N- and α-C-prenylated linear peptide. The discovery of these different classes of prenyltransferases with diverse acceptor residue specificities expands the biosynthetic toolkit for enzymatic prenylation of peptide substrates.In this Account, we review the current knowledge scope of the F family of peptide prenyltransferases, focusing on the biochemical, structure-function, and chemical characterization studies that have been carried out in our laboratories. These enzymes are easily amenable for diversity-oriented synthetic efforts as they can accommodate substrate peptides of diverse sequences and are thus attractive catalysts for use in synthetic biology approaches to generate high-value peptidic therapeutics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1313-1323
Number of pages11
JournalAccounts of chemical research
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 3 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)


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