Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Biochemistry and Cellular and Molecular Biology

Major Professor

Hong Guo

Committee Members

Albrecht von Arnim, Jerome Baudry, Chunlei Su


S-adenosyl methionine (SAM) dependent methylation process is universally found in all branches of life. It has important implications in mammalian pathogenesis and plant metabolism. The methyl transfer is normally catalyzed by SAM-dependent methyltransferases(MTases). Two MTases are studied in this dissertation: the 1,7-dimethylxanthine methyltransferase (DXMT) which involve in plant caffeine biosynthesis, and the protein arginine methyltransferase 5(PRMT5) that participates in eukaryotic posttranslational modification. The late phase of caffeine biosynthesis starts from the substrate xanthosine and ends with the product caffeine, with theobromine as an intermediate product. DXMT is a key enzyme in this process and catalyzes two methylation steps: 1)methylation of 7-methylxanthine to form theobromine; 2)methylation of theobromine to form caffeine. The catalytic mechanism and product promiscuity of DXMT is intriguing. In Chapter 1, the quantum mechanical/molecular mechanical (QM/MM) molecular dynamics (MD) and free energy simulations were performed to explain the dual catalytic roles of DXMT. Simulation results show that a histidine residue may act as a general base catalyst during methylations. PRMTs can work as modifiers for histones and methylate the substrate arginine, thus interfering with histone code orchestration. The product specificity of PRMTs refers to their ability to produce either symmetric di-methylarginine(SDMA), asymmetric di-methylarginine(ADMA) or mono-methylarginine(MMA). Understanding the product specificity of PRMTs is important since different methylations may cause distinctive, even inverse biological consequences. PRMT5 produces SDMA, as compared to PRMT1 and PRMT3 that produce ADMA. In Chapter 2, simulations of PRMT5 have drawn a theoretical insight into the catalytic difference between SDMA and ADMA. Neddylation is a type of eukaryotic Ubiquitin-like (UBL) protein modification that is essential in cell division and development. Unlike ubiquitin and other small ubiquitin-like modifiers which target variety of protein substrates, the UBL NEDD8 is highly selective on modifying cullin proteins and contributes to 10% ~20% of all cellular ubiquitination and ubiquitination-like modification. In Chapter 3, the crystal structure of a trapped E3-E2 ̴ NEDD8-CUL1 intermediate was used for modeling, and simulations were applied to investigate the catalytic mechanism of NEDD8 transfer from E2 to the substrate. Some important insights were observed that may be used to understand the functional properties of the enzyme.

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