The AKRs (aldo-keto reductases) are a superfamily of enzymes which mainly rely on NADPH to reversibly reduce various carbonyl-containing compounds to the corresponding alcohols. A small number have been found with dual NADPH/NADH specificity, usually preferring NADPH, but none are exclusive for NADH. Crystal structures of the dual-specificity enzyme xylose reductase (AKR2B5) indicate that NAD+ is bound via a key interaction with a glutamate that is able to change conformations to accommodate the 2′-phosphate of NADP+. Sequence comparisons suggest that analogous glutamate or aspartate residues may function in other AKRs to allow NADH utilization. Based on this, nine putative enzymes with potential NADH specificity were identified and seven genes were successfully expressed and purified from Drosophila melanogaster, Escherichia coli, Schizosaccharomyces pombe, Sulfolobus solfataricus, Sinorhizobium meliloti and Thermotoga maritima. Each was assayed for co-substrate dependence with conventional AKR substrates. Three were exclusive for NADPH (AKR2E3, AKR3F2 and AKR3F3), two were dual-specific (AKR3C2 and AKR3F1) and one was specific for NADH (AKR11B2), the first such activity in an AKR. Fluorescence measurements of the seventh protein indicated that it bound both NADPH and NADH but had no activity. Mutation of the aspartate into an alanine residue or a more mobile glutamate in the NADH-specific E. coli protein converted it into an enzyme with dual specificity. These results show that the presence of this carboxylate is an indication of NADH dependence. This should allow improved prediction of co-substrate specificity and provide a basis for engineering enzymes with altered co-substrate utilization for this class of enzymes.

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