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1-Deoxy-d-xylulose 5-phosphate (DXP) synthase catalyzes the formation of DXP from pyruvate and d-glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate (GraP) in a thiamin diphosphate-dependent manner, and is the first step in the essential pathway to isoprenoids in human pathogens. Understanding the mechanism of this unique enzyme is critical for developing new anti-infective agents that selectively target isoprenoid biosynthesis. The present study used mutagenesis and a combination of protein fluorescence, CD and kinetics experiments to investigate the roles of Arg420, Arg478 and Tyr392 in substrate binding and catalysis. The results support a random sequential, preferred order mechanism, and predict that Arg420 and Arg478 are involved in binding of the acceptor substrate, GraP. d-Glyceraldehyde, an alternative acceptor substrate lacking the phosphoryl group predicted to interact with Arg420 and Arg478, also accelerates decarboxylation of the predecarboxylation intermediate C2α-lactylthiamin diphosphate (LThDP) on DXP synthase, indicating that this binding interaction is not absolutely required, and that the hydroxyaldehyde sufficiently triggers decarboxylation. Unexpectedly, Tyr392 contributes to GraP affinity, and is not required for LThDP formation or its GraP-promoted decarboxylation. Time-resolved CD spectroscopy and NMR experiments indicate that LThDP is significantly stabilized on R420A and Y392F variants as compared with wild-type DXP synthase in the absence of acceptor substrate, but these substitutions do not appear to affect the rate of GraP-promoted LThDP decarboxylation in the presence of high levels of GraP, and LThDP formation remains the rate-limiting step. These results suggest a role of these residues in promoting GraP binding, which in turn facilitates decarboxylation, and also highlight interesting differences between DXP synthase and other thiamin diphosphate-dependent enzymes.DXP synthase is a distinct non-mammalian ThDP-dependent enzyme that requires ternary complex formation. We demonstrate that Arg420, Arg478, and Tyr392 contribute to d-GAP binding to facilitate LThDP decarboxylation, without affecting its formation. These residues may create a barrier to decarboxylation in the absence of d-GAP. DXP synthase catalyzes LThDP decarboxylation by a unique mechanism, creating opportunities for selective targeting.