Quality control in tRNA charging -- editing of homocysteine.

  • Hieronim Jakubowski UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School, Department of Microbiology & Molecular Genetics, International Center for Public Health, Newark, USA. jakubows@umdnj.edu;


All living organisms conduct protein synthesis with a high degree of accuracy maintained in the transmission and flow of information from a gene to protein product. One crucial 'quality control' point in maintaining a high level of accuracy is the selectivity by which aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases furnish correctly activated amino acids, attached to tRNA species, as the building blocks for growing protein chains. When differences in binding energies of amino acids to an aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase are inadequate, editing is used as a major determinant of enzyme selectivity. Some incorrect amino acids are edited at the active site before the transfer to tRNA (pre-transfer editing), while others are edited after transfer to tRNA at a separate editing site (post-transfer editing). Access of natural non-protein amino acids, such as homocysteine, homoserine, or ornithine to the genetic code is prevented by the editing function of aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases. Disabling editing function leads to tRNA mischarging errors and incorporation of incorrect amino acids into protein, which is detrimental to cell homeostasis and inhibits growth. Continuous homocysteine editing by methionyl-tRNA synthetase, resulting in the synthesis of homocysteine thiolactone, is part of the process of tRNA aminoacylation in living organisms, from bacteria to man. Excessive homocysteine thiolactone synthesis in hyperhomocysteinemia caused by genetic or nutritional deficiencies is linked to human vascular and neurological diseases.