As a general rule, ribosomally synthesized polypeptides contain amino acids only in the L-isoform in an order dictated by the coding DNA/RNA. Two of a total of only four examples of L to D conversions in prokaryotic systems occur in posttranslationally modified antimicrobial peptides called lantibiotics. In both examples (lactocin S and lacticin 3147), ribosomally encoded L-serines are enzymatically converted to D-alanines, giving rise to an apparent mistranslation of serine codons to alanine residues. It has been suggested that this conversion results from a two-step reaction initiated by a lantibiotic synthetase converting the gene-encoded L-serine to dehydroalanine (dha). By using lacticin 3147 as a model system, we report the identification of an enzyme, LtnJ, that is responsible for the conversion of dha to D-alanine. Deletion of this enzyme results in the residues remaining as dha intermediates, leading to a dramatic reduction in the antimicrobial activity of the producing strain. The importance of the chirality of the three D-alanines present in lacticin 3147 was confirmed when these residues were systematically substituted by L-alanines. In addition, substitution with L-threonine (ultimately modified to dehydrobutyrine), glycine, or L-valine also resulted in diminished peptide production and/or relative activity, the extent of which depended on the chirality of the newly incorporated amino acid(s).
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