Pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase (PDK) is the primary regulator of flux through the mitochondrial pyruvate dehydrogenase complex (PDC). Although PDKs inactivate mitochondrial PDC by phosphorylating specific Ser residues, the primary amino acid sequence indicates that they are more closely related to prokaryotic His kinases than to eukaryotic Ser/Thr kinases. Unlike Ser/Thr kinases, His kinases use a conserved His residue for phosphotransfer to Asp residues. To understand these unique kinases better, a presumptive PDK from Arabidopsis thaliana was heterologously expressed and purified for this investigation. Purified, recombinant A. thaliana PDK could inactivate kinase-depleted maize mitochondrial PDC by phosphorylating Ser residues. Additionally, A. thaliana PDK was capable of autophosphorylating Ser residues near its N-terminus, although this reaction is not part of the phosphotransfer pathway. To elucidate the mechanism involved, we performed site-directed mutagenesis of the canonical His residue likely to be involved in phosphotransfer. When His-121 was mutated to Ala or Gln, Ser-autophosphorylation was decreased by 50% and transphosphorylation of PDC was decreased concomitantly. We postulate that either (1) His-121 is not the sole phosphotransfer His residue or (2) mutagenesis of His-121 exposes an additional otherwise cryptic phosphotransfer His residue. Thus His-121 is one residue involved in kinase function.

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