Several lipocalins contain conserved amino acid sequences similar to the phosphodiester bond cleavage domain of sugar non-specific magnesium-dependent nucleases of the Serratia marcescens type. His-89 and Glu-127 of the S. marcescens endonuclease are believed to have a role in the active catalytic site by the attack of a water molecule at the phosphorus atom of the bridging phosphate. Tear lipocalin contains both amino acids in analogous regions, and is active as a nuclease. Two forms of β-lactoglobulin contain only Glu-134 (analogous to Glu-127 of the Serratia nuclease) yet retain nuclease activity equal to or greater than that of tear lipocalin. However, retinol-binding protein lacks both of these motifs and shows no detectable activity. DNA-nicking activity is decreased by 80% in the mutant of tear lipocalin that replaces Glu-128 but is unchanged by mutations of His-84. The endonuclease activity of tear lipocalin is dependent on the bivalent cations Mg2+ or Mn2+ but is decreased at high concentrations of NaCl. These findings indicate that some lipocalins have non-specific endonuclease activity similar in characteristics to the Mg2+-dependent nucleases and related to the conserved sequence LEDFXR (where ‘X’ denotes ‘any other residue’), in which the glutamic residue seems to be important for activity.

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