BACKGROUND: Human thioredoxin is a 12 kDa cellular redox protein that plays a key role in maintaining the redox environment of the cell. It has recently been shown to be responsible for activating the DNA-binding properties of the cellular transcription factor, NF kappa B, by reducing a disulfide bond involving Cys62 of the p50 subunit. Using multidimensional heteronuclear-edited and hetero-nuclear-filtered NMR spectroscopy, we have solved the solution structure of a complex of human thioredoxin and a 13-residue peptide extending from residues 56-68 of p50, representing a kinetically stable mixed disulfide intermediate along the reaction pathway. RESULTS: The NF kappa B peptide is located in a long boot-shaped cleft on the surface of human thioredoxin delineated by the active-site loop, helices alpha 2, alpha 3 and alpha 4, and strands beta 3 and beta 4. The peptide adopts a crescent-like conformation with a smooth 110 degrees bend centered around residue 60 which permits it to follow the path of the cleft. CONCLUSIONS: In addition to the intermolecular disulfide bridge between Cys32 of human thioredoxin and Cys62 of the peptide, the complex is stabilized by numerous hydrogen-bonding, electrostatic and hydrophobic interactions which involve residues 57-65 of the NF kappa B peptide and confer substrate specificity. These structural features permit one to suggest the specificity requirements for human thioredoxin-catalyzed disulfide bond reduction of proteins.
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