Phosphonoacetaldehyde hydrolase (phosphonatase) catalyzes the hydrolysis of phosphonoac-etaldehyde to acetaldehyde and phosphate using Mg(II) as cofactor. The reaction proceeds via a novel bicovalent catalytic mechanism in which an active-site nucleophile abstracts the phosphoryl group from the Schiff-base intermediate formed from Lys53 and phosphonoacetaldehyde. In this study, the X-ray crystal structure of the Bacillus cereus phosphonatase homodimer complexed with the phosphate (product) analogue tungstate (K(i) = 50 μM) and the Mg(II) cofactor was determined to 3.0 Å resolution with an R(cryst) = 0.248 and R(free) = 0.284. Each monomer is made up of an α/β core domain consisting of a centrally located six-stranded parallel β-sheet surrounded by six α-helices. Two flexible, solvated linkers connect to a small cap domain (residues 21-99) that consists of an antiparallel, five-helix bundle. The subunit-subunit interface, formed by the symmetrical packing of the two α8 helices from the respective core domains, is stabilized through the hydrophobic effect derived from the desolvation of paired Met171, Trp164, Tyr162, Tyr167, and Tyr176 side chains. The active site is located at the domain - domain interface of each subunit. The Schiff base forming Lys53 is positioned on the cap domain while tungstate and Mg(II) are bound to the core domain. Mg(II) ligands include two oxygens of the tungstate ligand, one oxygen of the carboxylates of Asp12 and Asp186, the backbone carbonyl oxygen of Ala14, and a water that forms a hydrogen bond with the carboxylate of Asp190 and Thr187. The guanidinium group of Arg160 binds tungstate and the proposed nucleophile Asp12, which is suitably positioned for in-line attack at the tungsten atom. The side chains of the core domain residue Tyr128 and the cap domain residues Cys22 and Lys53 are located nearby. The identity of Asp12 as the active-site nucleophile was further evidenced by the observed removal of catalytic activity resulting from Asp12Ala substitution. The similarity of backbone folds observed in phosphonatase and the 2-haloacid dehalogenase of the HAD enzyme superfamily indicated common ancestry. Superposition of the two structures revealed a conserved active-site scaffold having distinct catalytic stations. Analysis of the usage of polar amino acid residues at these stations by the dehalogenases, phosphonatases, phosphatases, and phosphomutases of the HAD superfamily suggests possible ways in which the active site of an ancient enzyme ancestor might have been diversified for catalysis of C-X, P-C, and P-O bond cleavage reactions.
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