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  1. NMR-assisted crystallography—the integrated application of solid-state NMR, X-ray crystallography, and first-principles computational chemistry—holds significant promise for mechanistic enzymology: by providing atomic-resolution characterization of stable intermediates in enzyme active sites, including hydrogen atom locations and tautomeric equilibria, NMR crystallography offers insight into both structure and chemical dynamics. Here, this integrated approach is used to characterize the tryptophan synthase α-aminoacrylate intermediate, a defining species for pyridoxal-5′-phosphate–dependent enzymes that catalyze β-elimination and replacement reactions. For this intermediate, NMR-assisted crystallography is able to identify the protonation states of the ionizable sites on the cofactor, substrate, and catalytic side chains as well as the location and orientation of crystallographic waters within the active site. Most notable is the water molecule immediately adjacent to the substrate β-carbon, which serves as a hydrogen bond donor to the ε-amino group of the acid–base catalytic residue βLys87. From this analysis, a detailed three-dimensional picture of structure and reactivity emerges, highlighting the fate of the L-serine hydroxyl leaving group and the reaction pathway back to the preceding transition state. Reaction of the α-aminoacrylate intermediate with benzimidazole, an isostere of the natural substrate indole, shows benzimidazole bound in the active site and poised for, but unable to initiate, the subsequent bondmore »formation step. When modeled into the benzimidazole position, indole is positioned with C3 in contact with the α-aminoacrylate C β and aligned for nucleophilic attack. Here, the chemically detailed, three-dimensional structure from NMR-assisted crystallography is key to understanding why benzimidazole does not react, while indole does.« less
  2. Abstract

    Across the evolutionary history of insects, the shift from nitrogen-rich carnivore/omnivore diets to nitrogen-poor herbivorous diets was made possible through symbiosis with microbes. The herbivorous turtle antsCephalotespossess a conserved gut microbiome which enriches the nutrient composition by recycling nitrogen-rich metabolic waste to increase the production of amino acids. This enrichment is assumed to benefit the host, but we do not know to what extent. To gain insights into nitrogen assimilation in the ant cuticle we use gut bacterial manipulation,15N isotopic enrichment, isotope-ratio mass spectrometry, and15N nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to demonstrate that gut bacteria contribute to the formation of proteins, catecholamine cross-linkers, and chitin in the cuticle. This study identifies the cuticular components which are nitrogen-enriched by gut bacteria, highlighting the role of symbionts in insect evolution, and provides a framework for understanding the nitrogen flow from nutrients through bacteria into the insect cuticle.