Protein N-myristoylation in Escherichia coli: Reconstitution of a eukaryotic protein modification in bacteria

Robert J. Duronio, Emily Jackson-Machelski, Robert O. Heuckeroth, Peter O. Olins, Catherine S. Devine, Wes Yonemoto, Lee W. Slice, Susan S. Taylor, Jeffrey I. Gordon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

199 Scopus citations


Protein N-myristoylation refers to the covalent attachment of a myristoyl group (C14:0), via amide linkage, to the NH2-terminal glycine residue of certain cellular and viral proteins. Myristoyl-CoA:protein N-myristoyltransferase (NMT) catalyzes this cotranslational modification. We have developed a system for studying the substrate requirements and biological effects of protein N-myristoylation as well as NMT structure-activity relationships. Expression of the yeast NMT1 gene in Escherichia coli, a bacterium that has no endogenous NMT activity, results in production of the intact 53-kDa NMT polypeptide as well as a truncated polypeptide derived from proteolytic removal of its NH2-terminal 39 amino acids. Each E. coli-synthesized NMT species has fatty acid and peptide substrate specificities that are indistinguishable from those of NMT recovered from Saccharomyces cerevisiae, suggesting that the NH2-terminal domain of this enzyme is not required for its catalytic activity. By using a dual plasmid system, N-myristoylation of a mammalian protein was reconstituted in E. coli by simultaneous expression of the yeast NMT1 gene and a murine cDNA encoding the catalytic (C) subunit of cAMP-dependent protein kinase (PK-A). The fatty acid specificity of N-myristoylation was preserved in this system: [9,10(n)-3H]myristate but not [9,10(n)3H]palmitate was efficiently linked to Gly-1 of the C subunit. [13,14(n)-3H]10-Propoxydecanoic acid, a heteroatom-containing analog of myristic acid with reduced hydrophobicity but similar chain length, was an effective alternative substrate for NMT that also could be incorporated into the C subunit of PK-A. Such analogs have recently been shown to inhibit replication of certain retroviruses that depend upon linkage of a myristoyl group to their gag polyprotein precursors (e.g., the Pr55gag of human immunodeficiency virus type 1). A major advantage of the bacterial system over eukaryotic systems is the absence of endogenous NMT and substrates, providing a more straightforward way of preparing myristoylated, analog-substituted, and nonmyristoylated forms of a given protein for comparison of their structural and functional properties. The system should facilitate screening of enzyme inhibitors as well as alternative NMT fatty acid substrates for their ability to be incorporated into a specific target protein. Our experimental system may prove useful for recapitulating other eukaryotic protein modifications in E. coli so that structure-activity relationships of modifying enzymes and their substrates can be more readily assessed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1506-1510
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1990


  • E. coli expression vectors
  • Fatty acid analogs
  • Myristoyl-CoA:protein N-myristoyltransferase
  • Protein kinase A


Dive into the research topics of 'Protein N-myristoylation in Escherichia coli: Reconstitution of a eukaryotic protein modification in bacteria'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this