Covalent attachment of a variety of lipid groups to proteins is now recognized as a major group of post-translational modifications. S-acylation of proteins at cysteine residues is the only modification considered dynamic and thus has the potential for regulating protein function and/or localization. The activities that catalyse reversible S-acylation have not been well characterized and it is not clear whether both the acylation and the deacylation steps are regulated, since in principle it would be sufficient to control only one of them. Both apparently enzymatic and non-enzymatic S-acylation of proteins have previously been reported. Here we show that a synthetic myristoylated c-Yes protein tyrosine kinase undecapeptide undergoes spontaneous S-acylation in vitro when using a long chain acyl-CoA as acyl donor in the absence of any protein. The S-acylation was dependent on myristoylation of the substrate, the length of the incubation period, temperature and substrate concentration. When COS cell fractions were added to the S-acylation reaction no additional peptide:S-acyltransferase activity was detected. These results are consistent with the possibility that membrane-associated proteins may undergo S-acylation in vivo by non-enzymatic transfer of acyl groups from acyl-CoA. In this case, the S-acylation-deacylation process could be controlled by a regulated depalmitoylation mechanism.

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