The amidotransferase family of enzymes: molecular machines for the production and delivery of ammonia. Academic Article uri icon


  • The amidotransferase family of enzymes utilizes the ammonia derived from the hydrolysis of glutamine for a subsequent chemical reaction catalyzed by the same enzyme. The ammonia intermediate does not dissociate into solution during the chemical transformations. A well-characterized example of the structure and mechanism displayed by this class of enzymes is provided by carbamoyl phosphate synthetase (CPS). Carbamoyl phosphate synthetase is isolated from Escherichia coli as a heterodimeric protein. The smaller of the two subunits catalyzes the hydrolysis of glutamine to glutamate and ammonia. The larger subunit catalyzes the formation of carbamoyl phosphate using 2 mol of ATP, bicarbonate, and ammonia. Kinetic investigations have led to a proposed chemical mechanism for this enzyme that requires carboxy phosphate, ammonia, and carbamate as kinetically competent reaction intermediates. The three-dimensional X-ray crystal structure of CPS has localized the positions of three active sites. The nucleotide binding site within the N-terminal half of the large subunit is required for the phosphorylation of bicarbonate and subsequent formation of carbamate. The nucleotide binding site within the C-terminal domain of the large subunit catalyzes the phosphorylation of carbamate to the final product, carbamoyl phosphate. The three active sites within the heterodimeric protein are separated from one another by about 45 A. The ammonia produced within the active site of the small subunit is the substrate for reaction with the carboxy phosphate intermediate that is formed in the active site found within the N-terminal half of the large subunit of CPS. Since the ammonia does not dissociate from the protein prior to its reaction with carboxy phosphate, this intermediate must therefore diffuse through a molecular tunnel that connects these two sites with one another. Similarly, the carbamate intermediate, initially formed at the active site within the N-terminal half of the large subunit, is the substrate for phosphorylation by the ATP bound to the active site located in the C-terminal half of the large subunit. A molecular passageway has been identified by crystallographic methods that apparently facilitates diffusion between these two active sites within the large subunit of CPS. Synchronization of the chemical transformations is controlled by structural perturbations among the three active sites. Molecular tunnels between distant active sites have also been identified in tryptophan synthase and glutamine phosphoribosyl pyrophosphate amidotransferase and are likely architectural features in an expanding list of enzymes.

published proceedings

  • Biochemistry

altmetric score

  • 6

author list (cited authors)

  • Raushel, F. M., Thoden, J. B., & Holden, H. M.

citation count

  • 95

complete list of authors

  • Raushel, FM||Thoden, JB||Holden, HM

publication date

  • June 1999