Human nucleoside diphosphate (NDP) kinase A is a ‘house-keeping’ enzyme essential for the synthesis of nonadenine nucleoside (and deoxynucleoside) 5′-triphosphate. It is involved in complex cellular regulatory functions including the control of metastatic tumour dissemination. The mutation S120G has been identified in high-grade neuroblastomas. We have shown previously that this mutant has a folding defect: the urea-denatured protein could not refold in vitro. A molten globule folding intermediate accumulated, whereas the wild-type protein folded and associated into active hexamers. In the present study, we report that autophosphorylation of the protein corrected the folding defect. The phosphorylated S120G mutant NDP kinase, either autophosphorylated with ATP as donor, or chemically prosphorylated by phosphoramidate, refolded and associated quickly with high yield. Nucleotide binding had only a small effect. ADP and the non-hydrolysable ATP analogue 5′-adenyly-limido-diphosphate did not promote refolding. ATP-promoted refolding was strongly inhibited by ADP, indicating protein dephosphorylation. Our findings explain why the mutant enzyme is produced in mammalian cells and in Escherichia coli in a soluble form and is active, despite the folding defect of the S120G mutant observed in vitro. We generated an inactive mutant kinase by replacing the essential active-site histidine residue at position 118 with an asparagine residue, which abrogates the autophosphorylation. The double mutant H118N/S120G was expressed in inclusion bodies in E. coli. Its renaturation stops at a folding intermediate and cannot be reactivated by ATP in vitro. The transfection of cells with this double mutant might be a good model to study the cellular effects of folding intermediates.

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