Microbial transglutaminase displays broad acyl-acceptor substrate specificity

Maria T. Gundersen, Jeffrey W. Keillor, Joelle N. Pelletier

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The great importance of amide bonds in industrial synthesis has encouraged the search for efficient catalysts of amide bond formation. Microbial transglutaminase (MTG) is heavily utilized in crosslinking proteins in the food and textile industries, where the side chain of a glutamine reacts with the side chain of a lysine, forming a secondary amide bond. Long alkylamines carrying diverse chemical entities can substitute for lysine as acyl-acceptor substrates, to link molecules of interest onto peptides or proteins. Here, we explore short and chemically varied acyl-acceptor substrates, to better understand the nature of nonnatural substrates that are tolerated by MTG, with the aim of diversifying biocatalytic applications of MTG.We show, for the first time, that very short-chain alkyl-based amino acids such as glycine can serve as acceptor substrates. The esterified α-amino acids Thr, Ser, Cys, and Trp—but not Ile—also showed reactivity. Extending the search to nonnatural compounds, a ring near the amine group—particularly if aromatic—was beneficial for reactivity, although ring substituents reduced reactivity. Overall, amines attached to a less hindered carbon increased reactivity. Importantly, very small amines carrying either the
electron-rich azide or the alkyne groups required for click chemistry were highly reactive as acyl-acceptor substrates, providing a robust route to minimally modified, “clickable” peptides. These results demonstrate that MTG is tolerant to a variety of chemically varied natural and nonnatural acyl-acceptor substrates, which broadens the scope for modification of Gln-containing peptides and proteins.
Original languageEnglish
JournalApplied Microbiology and Biotechnology
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)219-230
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Amide bond formation
  • Microbial transformations
  • Biocatalysis
  • Peptide modification

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