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Acetylation is a vital chemical reaction that is important for co-translational and post-translational modification of proteins. Once the proteins are formed in their rudimentary forms of long polypeptide chains, they undergo several chemical reactions to form the final three dimensional structures of proteins. Acetylation is one such reaction. Some modifications include those for histones, p53, and tubulins.

Some of the important Acetylation reactions include:

N-alpha-terminal acetylation

This is the acetylation reaction of the N-terminal alpha-amine of proteins. This is a common reaction seen in eukaryotes. Over half (40 to 50 percent) of yeast proteins and nearly all (80 to 90 percent) of human proteins are modified in this manner. This reaction has been conserved throughout evolution and has not changed much.

The reactions are mediated by N-alpha-acetyltransferases (NATs), a sub-family of the GNAT superfamily of acetyltransferases. This superfamily includes histone acetyl transferases. These NATs transfer the acetyl group from acetyl-coenzyme A to the amine group.

There are three types of N-acetyletransferases. These are labelled A, B and C. These have been extensively studied in yeast. Each subtype is specific for its substrates. These NATs are associated with the ribosome, where they acetylate the newly formed and unmodified polypeptide chain. Proteins such as actin and tropomyosin are especially dependent of NAT B acetylation to form proper actin filaments.

Humans also have the NAT A and NAT B complexes. NAT A complex activities have been associated with hypoxia-response and beta-catenin pathway that have been linked to cancer pathologies. NATA has been found to be over-expressed in papillary thyroid cancers and neuroblastomas. The human NAT B complex is associated with the cell cycle. The hNat3 subunit of the hNatB complex has been found overexpressed in some forms of cancer.

Genetic determines activities of NAT that again regulate drug metabolism. Nearly 20% of Asians have an isozyme that results in slower N-acetylation of drugs, while 50% of Whites and African-Americans do.

Different structures of membrane proteins: (left to right) Potassium channel, delta-opioid receptor, LDL receptor, acetylcholine receptor, histamine receptor, 3d rendering – Image Credit: Juan Gaertner / Shutterstock

Lysine acetylation and deacetylation

The histone acetylation and deacetylation occurs on the lysine residues in the N-terminal tail as part of gene regulation. The mediating enzyme is often histone acetyltransferase (HAT) or histone deacetylase (HDAC). HATs and HDACs can modify the acetylation status of non-histone proteins as well.

Tubulin acetylation

Tubulin acetylation and deacetylation has been studied in Chlamydomonas. A tubulin acetyltransferase located in the axoneme. It acetylates a specific lysine residue in the α-tubulin subunit in assembled microtubule.



Further Reading

  • All Acetylation Content
  • What is Acetylation?

Last Updated: Jan 13, 2021

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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