Biosynthesis of Sulfur-Containing tRNA Modifications: A Comparison of Bacterial, Archaeal, and Eukaryotic Pathways

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Post-translational tRNA modifications have very broad diversity and are present in all domains of life. They are important for proper tRNA functions. In this review, we emphasize the recent advances on the biosynthesis of sulfur-containing tRNA nucleosides including the 2-thiouridine (s²U) derivatives, 4-thiouridine (s⁴U), 2-thiocytidine (s²C), and 2-methylthioadenosine (ms²A). Their biosynthetic pathways have two major types depending on the requirement of iron-sulfur (Fe-S) clusters. In all cases, the first step in bacteria and eukaryotes is to activate the sulfur atom of free l-cysteine by cysteine desulfurases, generating a persulfide (R-S-SH) group. In some archaea, a cysteine desulfurase is missing. The following steps of the bacterial s²U and s⁴U formation are Fe-S cluster independent, and the activated sulfur is transferred by persulfide-carrier proteins. By contrast, the biosynthesis of bacterial s²C and ms²A require Fe-S cluster dependent enzymes. A recent study shows that the archaeal s⁴U synthetase (ThiI) and the eukaryotic cytosolic 2-thiouridine synthetase (Ncs6) are Fe-S enzymes; this expands the role of Fe-S enzymes in tRNA thiolation to the Archaea and Eukarya domains. The detailed reaction mechanisms of Fe-S cluster depend s²U and s⁴U formation await further investigations.

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