Gamma-aminobutyrate transaminase (GABA-T), a key homodimeric enzyme of the GABA shunt, converts the major inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA to succinic semialdehyde. We previously overexpressed, purified and characterized human brain GABA-T. To identify the structural and functional roles of the cysteinyl residue at position 321, we constructed various GABA-T mutants by site-directed mutagenesis. The purified wild type GABA-T enzyme was enzymatically active, whereas the mutant enzymes were inactive. Reaction of 1.5 sulfhydryl groups per wild type dimer with 5,5 cent-dithiobis-2-nitrobenzoic acid (DTNB) produced about 95% loss of activity. No reactive -SH groups were detected in the mutant enzymes. Wild type GABA-T, but not the mutants, existed as an oligomeric species of Mr = 100,000 that was dissociable by 2-mercaptoethanol. These results suggest that the Cys321 residue is essential for the catalytic function of GABA-T, and that it is involved in the formation of a disulfide link between two monomers of human brain GABA-T.
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