Tryptophan oxygenation: mechanistic considerations
From a protein structural viewpoint, tryptophan is often considered an inert structural amino acid, playing a role as a hydrophobic anchor in membrane proteins or as part of the hydrophobic core of soluble proteins. However, tryptophan is the only polyaromatic amino acid and, from a chemical viewpoint, possesses unique reactivity owing to the electron-richness of the indole system. This reactivity is seen in the area of natural products and metabolites which have exquisite modifications of the indole ring system. Enzymes have evolved multiple strategies to break or modify the indole ring; one particular class is the IDO/TDO (indoleamine/tryptophan dioxygenase) superfamily. A new member of this family, PrnB, on the surface catalyses a very different reaction, but actually shares much of the early chemistry with the tryptophan dioxygenases. Studies on PrnB have contributed to our understanding of the wider superfamily. In the present mini-review, recent developments in our understanding of how the TDO class of enzymes use activated molecular oxygen to break the indole ring are discussed.