Biochemical Journal


Structural analyses reveal two distinct families of nucleoside phosphorylases

Matthew J. PUGMIRE, Steven E. EALICK


The reversible phosphorolysis of purine and pyrimidine nucleosides is an important biochemical reaction in the salvage pathway, which provides an alternative to the de novo purine and pyrimidine biosynthetic pathways. Structural studies in our laboratory and by others have revealed that only two folds exist that catalyse the phosphorolysis of all nucleosides, and provide the basis for defining two families of nucleoside phosphorylases. The first family (nucleoside phosphorylase-I) includes enzymes that share a common single-domain subunit, with either a trimeric or a hexameric quaternary structure, and accept a range of both purine and pyrimidine nucleoside substrates. Despite differences in substrate specificity, amino acid sequence and quaternary structure, all members of this family share a characteristic subunit topology. We have also carried out a sequence motif study that identified regions of the common subunit fold that are functionally significant in differentiating the various members of the nucleoside phosphorylase-I family. Although the substrate-binding sites are arranged similarly for all members of the nucleoside phosphorylase-I family, a comparison of the active sites from the known structures of this family indicates significant differences between the trimeric and hexameric family members. Sequence comparisons also suggest structural identity between the nucleoside phosphorylase-I family and both 5′-methylthioadenosine/S-adenosylhomocysteine nucleosidase and AMP nucleosidase. Members of the second family of nucleoside phosphorylases (nucleoside phosphorylase-II) share a common two-domain subunit fold and a dimeric quaternary structure, share a significant level of sequence identity (>30%) and are specific for pyrimidine nucleosides. Members of this second family accept both thymidine and uridine substrates in lower organisms, but are specific for thymidine in mammals and other higher organisms. A possible relationship between nucleoside phosphorylase-II and anthranilate phosphoribosyltransferase has been identified through sequence comparisons. Initial studies in our laboratory suggested that members of the nucleoside phosphorylase-II family require significant domain movements in order for catalysis to proceed. A series of recent structures has confirmed our hypothesis and provided details of these conformational changes. Structural studies of the nucleoside phosphorylases have resulted in a wealth of information that begins to address fundamental biological questions, such as how Nature makes use of the intricate relationships between structure and function, and how biological processes have evolved over time. In addition, the therapeutic potential of suppressing the nucleoside phosphorylase activity in either family of enzymes has motivated efforts to design potent inhibitors. Several research groups have synthesized a variety of nucleoside phosphorylase inhibitors that are at various stages of preclinical and clinical evaluation.

  • active site
  • inhibitors
  • purine nucleoside phosphorylase
  • pyrimidine nucleoside phosphorylase
  • quaternary structure


  • Abbreviations used: AnPRT, anthranilate phosphoribosyltransferase; MTA/SAH, 5′-methylthioadenosine/S-adenosylhomocysteine; MTAP, 5′-deoxy-5′-methylthioadenosine phosphorylase; hMTAP, human MTAP; NP-I, nucleoside phosphorylase-I; NP-II, nucleoside phosphorylase-II; PNP, purine nucleoside phosphorylase; bPNP, bovine PNP; hPNP, human PNP; PyNP, pyrimidine nucleoside phosphorylase; TP, thymidine phosphorylase; UP, uridine phosphorylase.