Lantibiotics are peptide-derived antimicrobial agents that are ribosomally synthesized and posttranslationally modified by a multienzyme complex to their biologically active forms. Nisin has attracted much attention recently due to its novel mechanism of action including specific binding to the bacterial cell wall precursor lipid II, followed by membrane permeabilization. Nisin has been commercially used as a food preservative, while other lantibiotics show promising activity against bacterial infections. The posttranslational modifications are believed to be carried out by a multienzyme complex. At present the enzymes catalyzing the formation of the lantibiotic signature structural motifs, dehydroalanine (Dha), dehydrobutyrine (Dhb), lanthionine (Ln), and methyllanthionine (MeLn), are poorly characterized. In an effort to gain insight into the mechanism by which lantibiotics are biosynthesized, the cyclase enzymes involved in the synthesis of nisin and subtilin (NisC and SpaC, respectively) have been cloned, expressed, and purified. Both proteins exist as monomers in solution and contain a stoichiometric zinc atom. EXAFS data on SpaC and a C349A mutant are in line with two cysteine ligands to the metal in the wild-type enzyme with possibly two additional histidines. The two cysteine ligands are likely Cys303 and Cys349 on the basis of sequence alignments and EXAFS data. The metal may function to activate the cysteine thiol of the peptide substrate toward intramolecular Michael addition to the dehydroalanine and dehydrobutyrine residues in the peptide.
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