Purification and characterization of arginyl-tRNA-protein transferase from rabbit reticulocytes. Its involvement in post-translational modification and degradation of acidic NH2 termini substrates of the ubiquitin pathway.
Conjugation of ubiquitin to certain proteins can trigger their degradation. A major question concerns the structural features of a protein which make it susceptible to ubiquitin ligation. Recent studies have shown that the selection of proteins for degradation occurs most probably on a binding site of the ubiquitin-protein ligase (E3). It was shown that a free alpha-NH2 group is one important feature of the protein structure recognized by the ubiquitin-ligating enzyme. Proteins with basic or bulky hydrophobic residues in the NH2-terminal position are recognized by the ligase, marked by ubiquitin, and degraded. This is not true, however, for proteins with an acidic residue in this position. We have previously shown that a tRNA-dependent post-translational conjugation of arginine to acidic NH2 termini of proteins is essential for their degradation via the ubiquitin pathway, and we speculated that this modification is required for their recognition by the ligase. In the present study we have partially purified from rabbit reticulocytes the modifying enzyme, arginyl-tRNA-protein transferase, and characterized it. We have separated the enzyme from other known components of the ubiquitin system and shown that it is specifically required for degradation of proteins with either an aspartate or glutamate residue in their NH2-terminal position. We have shown that the action of the transferase is required for conjugation of ubiquitin to the substrate and most probably for its recognition by the ligase. The enzyme in its native form has a molecular mass of about 360 kDa. It appears to be a complex between several molecules of arginyl-tRNA synthetase and arginyl-tRNA-protein transferase.