Research ArticleBIOCHEMISTRY

Zooming in on protons: Neutron structure of protein kinase A trapped in a product complex

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Science Advances  20 Mar 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 3, eaav0482
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aav0482


The question vis-à-vis the chemistry of phosphoryl group transfer catalyzed by protein kinases remains a major challenge. The neutron diffraction structure of the catalytic subunit of cAMP-dependent protein kinase (PKA-C) provides a more complete chemical portrait of key proton interactions at the active site. By using a high-affinity protein kinase substrate (PKS) peptide, we captured the reaction products, dephosphorylated nucleotide [adenosine diphosphate (ADP)] and phosphorylated PKS (pPKS), bound at the active site. In the complex, the phosphoryl group of the peptide is protonated, whereas the carboxyl group of the catalytic Asp166 is not. Our structure, including conserved waters, shows how the peptide links the distal parts of the cleft together, creating a network that engages the entire molecule. By comparing slow-exchanging backbone amides to those determined by the NMR analysis of PKA-C with ADP and inhibitor peptide (PKI), we identified exchangeable amides that likely distinguish catalytic and inhibited states.

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