Ageritin is a ribotoxin-like protein of biotechnological interest, belonging to a family of ribonucleases from edible mushrooms. Its enzymatic activity is explicated through the hydrolysis of a single phosphodiester bond, located in the sarcin/ricin loop of ribosomes. Unlike other ribotoxins, ageritin activity requires divalent cations (Zn2+). Here we investigated the conformational stability of ageritin in the pH range 4.0–7.4, using calorimetric and spectroscopic techniques. We observed a high protein thermal stability at all pHs with a denaturation temperature of 78 °C. At pH 5.0 we calculated a value of 36 kJ mol−1 for the unfolding Gibbs energy at 25 °C. We also analysed the thermodynamic and catalytic behaviour of S-pyridylethylated form, obtained by alkylating the single Cys18 residue, which is predicted to bind Zn2+. We show that this form possesses the same activity and structure of ageritin, but lower stability. In fact, the corresponding values of 52 °C and 14 kJ mol−1 were found. Conservation of activity is consistent with the location of alkylation site on the opposite site of the catalytic site cleft. Inasmuch as Cys18 is part of a structurally stabilizing zinc-binding site, disrupted by cysteine alkylation, our results point to an important role of metal ions in ageritin stability.
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