Studies of the yeast protein farnesyltransferase (FTase) have shown that the enzyme preferentially farnesylates proteins ending in CAAX (C = cysteine, A = aliphatic residue, X = cysteine, serine, methionine, alanine) and to a lesser degree CAAL. Furthermore, like the type I protein geranylgeranyltransferase (GGTase-I), FTase can also geranylgeranylate methionine- and leucine-ending substrates both in vitro and in vivo. Substrate overlap of FTase and GGTase I has not been determined to be biologically significant. In this study, specific residues that influence the substrate preferences of FTase have been identified using site-directed mutagenesis. Three of the mutations altered the substrate preferences of the wild type enzyme significantly. The ram1p-74D FTase farnesylated only Ras-CIIS and not Ras-CII(M,L), and it geranylgeranylated all three substrates as well or better than wild type. The ram1p-206DDLF FTase farnesylated Ras-CII(S,M,L) at wild type levels but could no longer geranylgeranylate the Ras-CII(M,L) substrates. The ram1p-351FSKN FTase farnesylated Ras-CIIS and Ras-CIIM but not Ras-CIIL. The ram1p-351FSKN FTase was not capable of geranylgeranylating the Ras-CII(M,L) substrates, giving this mutant the attributes of the dogmatic FTase that only farnesylates non-leucine-ending CAAX substrates and does not geranylgeranylate any substrate. These results suggest that the isoprenoid and protein substrate specificities of FTase are interrelated. The availability of a mutant FTase that lacked substrate overlap with the protein GGTase-I made possible an analysis of the role of substrate overlap in normal cellular processes of yeast, such as mating and growth at elevated temperatures. Our findings suggest that neither farnesylation of leucine-ending CAAX substrates nor geranylgeranylation by the FTase is necessary for these cellular processes.
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