The protein serine / threonine phosphatases constitute a unique class of enzymes that are critical for cell regulation, as they must counteract the activities of thousands of protein kinases in human cells. Uncontrolled inhibition of phosphatase activity by toxic inhibitors can lead to widespread catastrophic effects. Over the past decade, a number of natural product toxins have been identified that specifically and potently inhibit protein phosphatase-1 and -2A. Amongst these are the cyanobacteria-derived cyclic heptapeptide microcystin-LR and the polyether fatty acid okadaic acid from dinoflagellate sources. The molecular mechanism underlying potent inhibition of protein phosphatase-1 by these toxins is becoming clear through insights gathered from diverse sources. These include: 1. Comparison of structure-activity relationships amongst the different classes of toxins. 2. Delineation of the structural differences between protein phosphatase-1 and -2A that account for their differing sensitivity to toxins, particularly okadaic acid and microcystin-LR. 3. Determination of the crystal structure of protein phosphatase-1 with microcystin-LR, okadaic acid and calyculin bound. 4. Site-specific mutagenesis and biochemical analysis of protein phosphatase-1 mutants. Taken together, these data point to a common binding site on protein phosphatase-1 for okadaic acid, microcystin-LR and the calyculins. However, careful analysis of these data suggest that each toxin binds to the common binding site in a subtly different way, relying on distinct structural interactions such as hydrophobic binding, hydrogen bonding and electrostatic interactions to different degrees. The insights derived from studying the molecular enzymology of protein phosphatase-1 may help explain the different sensitivities of other structurally conserved protein serine / theonine phosphatases to toxin inhibition. Furthermore, studies on the binding of structurally diverse toxins at the active site of protein phosphatase-1 are leading to a clearer understanding of potential enzyme-substrate interactions in this important class of cell regulatory proteins.
CIHR Group in Protein Structure and Function, Department of Biochemistry, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. T6G 2H7