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Reformulation of an extant ATPase active site to mimic ancestral GTPase activity reveals a nucleotide base requirement for function.

  • Updegrove, Taylor B1
  • Harke, Jailynn1
  • Anantharaman, Vivek2
  • Yang, Jin3
  • Gopalan, Nikhil1
  • Wu, Di4
  • Piszczek, Grzegorz4
  • Stevenson, David M3
  • Amador-Noguez, Daniel3
  • Wang, Jue D3
  • Aravind, L2
  • Ramamurthi, Kumaran S1
  • 1 Laboratory of Molecular Biology, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, United States. , (United States)
  • 2 National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, United States. , (United States)
  • 3 Department of Bacteriology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, United States. , (United States)
  • 4 Biophysics Core Facility, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, United States. , (United States)
Published Article
"eLife Sciences Organisation, Ltd."
Publication Date
Mar 11, 2021
DOI: 10.7554/eLife.65845
PMID: 33704064


Living organisms need energy to stay alive; in cells, this energy is supplied in the form of a small molecule called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, a nucleotide that stores energy in the bonds between its three phosphate groups. ATP is present in all living cells and is often referred to as the energy currency of the cell, because it can be easily stored and transported to where it is needed. However, it is unknown why cells rely so heavily on ATP when a highly similar nucleotide called guanosine triphosphate, or GTP, could also act as an energy currency. There are several examples of proteins that originally used GTP and have since evolved to use ATP, but it is not clear why this switch occurred. One suggestion is that ATP is the more readily available nucleotide in the cell. To test this hypothesis, Updegrove, Harke et al. studied a protein that helps bacteria transition into spores, which are hardier and can survive in extreme environments until conditions become favorable for bacteria to grow again. In modern bacteria, this protein uses ATP to provide energy, but it evolved from an ancestral protein that used GTP instead. First, Updegrove, Harke et al. engineered the protein so that it became more similar to the ancestral protein and used GTP instead of ATP. When this was done, the protein gained the ability to break down GTP and release energy from it, but it no longer performed its enzymatic function. This suggests that both the energy released and the source of that energy are important for a protein’s activity. Further analysis showed that the modern version of the protein has evolved to briefly hold on to ATP after releasing its energy, which did not happen with GTP in the modified protein. Updegrove, Harke et al. also discovered that the levels of GTP in a bacterial cell fall as it transforms into a spore, while ATP levels remain relatively high. This suggests that ATP may indeed have become the source of energy of choice because it was more available. These findings provide insights into how ATP became the energy currency in cells, and suggest that how ATP is bound by proteins can impact a protein’s activity. Additionally, these experiments could help inform the development of drugs targeting proteins that bind nucleotides: it may be essential to consider the entirety of the binding event, and not just the release of energy.

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