The chemical and biochemical route to the synthesis of the 21st amino acid in living systems, selenocysteine, is described. The incorporation of this rare amino acid residue into proteins is described with emphasis on the role of monoselenophosphate as selenium source. The role of selenocysteine moiety in natural mammalian enzymes such as glutathione peroxidase (GPx), iodothyronine deiodinase (ID) and thioredoxin reductase (TrxR) is highlighted and the effect of other amino acid residues located in close proximity to selenocysteine is described. It is evident from various studies that two amino acid residues, tryptophan and glutamine, appear in identical positions in all known members of the GPx family. According to the three-dimensional structure established for bovine GPx, these residues could constitute a catalytic triad in which the selenol group of the selenocysteine is both stabilized and activated by hydrogen bonding with the imino group of the tryptophan (Trp) residue and with the amido group of the glutamine (Gln) residue. The ID enzymes, on the other hand, do not possess any Trp or Gln residues in close proximity to selenium, but contain several histidine residues, which may play important roles in the catalysis. The TrxR enzymes also possess some basic histidines, but the most important amino acid residues are the cysteines which constitute the internal cofactor systems along with the catalytically active selenocysteine. The catalytic activity and substrate specificity of all three selenoenzymes are described. The reactivity of selenocysteine residues in selenoenzymes towards metal-based drugs such as goldthioglucose is also described.
Volume 132, 2020
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