Mengmeng Zhang

Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States

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Publications (7)27.24 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: Proline isomerization greatly impacts biological signaling, but is subtle and difficult to detect in proteins. We characterize this poorly understood regulatory mechanism for RNA polymerase II carboxyl terminal domain (CTD) phosphorylation state using novel, direct, and quantitative chemical tools. We determine the proline isomeric preference of three CTD phosphatases: Ssu72 as cis-proline specific, Scp1 and Fcp1 as strongly trans-preferred. Due to this inherent characteristic, these phosphatases respond differently to enzymes that catalyze the isomerization of proline, like Ess1/Pin1. We demonstrate this selective regulation of RNA polymerase II phosphorylation state exists within human cells, consistent with in vitro assays. These results support a model in which, instead of a global enhancement of downstream enzymatic activities, proline isomerases selectively boost the activity of a subset of CTD regulatory factors specific for cis-proline. This leads to diversified phosphorylation states of CTD in vitro and in cells. We provide the chemical tools to investigate proline isomerization and its ability to selectively enhance signaling in transcription and other biological contexts.
    No preview · Article · Sep 2015 · ACS Chemical Biology
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    ABSTRACT: Protein phosphatases, as the counterpart to protein kinases, are essential for homeostatic balance of cell signaling. Small chemical compounds that modulate the specific activity of phosphatases can be powerful tools to elucidate the biological functions of these enzymes. More importantly, many phosphatases are central players in the development of pathological pathways where inactivation can reverse or delay the onset of human diseases. Therefore, potent inhibitors for such phosphatases can be of great therapeutic benefit. In contrast to the seemingly identical enzymatic mechanism and structural characterization of eukaryotic protein kinases, protein phosphatases evolved from diverse ancestors, resulting in different domain architectures, reaction mechanisms and active site properties. In this review, we will discuss for each family of serine/threonine protein phosphatases, their involvement in biological process and corresponding strategies for small chemical intervention. Recent advances in modern drug discovery technologies have markedly facilitated the identification of selective inhibitors for some members of the phosphatase family. Furthermore, the rapid growth in knowledge about structure-activity relationships related to possible new drug targets has aided the discovery of natural product inhibitors for phosphatase family. This review summarizes the current state of investigation of the small molecules that regulate the function of serine/threonine phosphatases, the challenges presented and also strategies to overcome these obstacles. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
    No preview · Article · Aug 2013 · FEBS Journal
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    ABSTRACT: The C-terminal domain (CTD) of eukaryotic RNA polymerase II is an essential regulator for RNA polymerase II-mediated transcription. It is composed of multiple repeats of a consensus sequence Tyr(1)Ser(2)Pro(3)Thr(4)Ser(5)Pro(6)Ser(7). CTD regulation of transcription is mediated by both phosphorylation of the serines and prolyl isomerization of the two prolines. Interestingly, the phosphorylation sites are typically close to prolines, and thus the conformation of the adjacent proline could impact the specificity of the corresponding kinases and phosphatases. Experimental evidence of cross-talk between these two regulatory mechanisms has been elusive. Pin1 is a highly conserved phosphorylation-specific peptidyl-prolyl isomerase (PPIase) that recognizes the phospho-Ser/Thr (pSer/Thr)-Pro motif with CTD as one of its primary substrates in vivo. In the present study, we provide structural snapshots and kinetic evidence that support the concept of cross-talk between prolyl isomerization and phosphorylation. We determined the structures of Pin1 bound with two substrate isosteres that mimic peptides containing pSer/Thr-Pro motifs in cis or trans conformations. The results unequivocally demonstrate the utility of both cis- and trans-locked alkene isosteres as close geometric mimics of peptides bound to a protein target. Building on this result, we identified a specific case in which Pin1 differentially affects the rate of dephosphorylation catalyzed by two phosphatases (Scp1 and Ssu72) that target the same serine residue in the CTD heptad repeat but have different preferences for the isomerization state of the adjacent proline residue. These data exemplify for the first time how modulation of proline isomerization can kinetically impact signal transduction in transcription regulation.
    No preview · Article · Jun 2012 · ACS Chemical Biology
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    Yong Zhang · Mengmeng Zhang · Yan Zhang
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    ABSTRACT: Reversible phosphorylation of the CTD (C-terminal domain) of the eukaryotic RNA polymerase II largest subunit represents a critical regulatory mechanism during the transcription cycle and mRNA processing. Ssu72 is an essential phosphatase conserved in eukaryotes that dephosphorylates phosphorylated Ser5 of the CTD heptapeptide. Its function is implicated in transcription initiation, elongation and termination, as well as RNA processing. In the present paper we report the high resolution X-ray crystal structures of Drosophila melanogaster Ssu72 phosphatase in the apo form and in complex with an inhibitor mimicking the transition state of phosphoryl transfer. Ssu72 facilitates dephosphorylation of the substrate through a phosphoryl-enzyme intermediate, as visualized in the complex structure of Ssu72 with the oxo-anion compound inhibitor vanadate at a 2.35 Å (1 Å=0.1 nm) resolution. The structure resembles the transition state of the phosphoryl transfer with vanadate exhibiting a trigonal bi-pyramidal geometry covalently bonded to the nucleophilic cysteine residue. Interestingly, the incorporation of oxo-anion compounds greatly stabilizes a flexible loop containing the general acid, as detected by an increase of melting temperature of Ssu72 detected by differential scanning fluorimetry. The Ssu72 structure exhibits a core fold with a similar topology to that of LMWPTPs [low-molecular-mass PTPs (protein tyrosine phosphatases)], but with an insertion of a unique 'cap' domain to shelter the active site from the solvent with a deep groove in between where the CTD substrates bind. Mutagenesis studies in this groove established the functional roles of five residues (Met17, Pro46, Asp51, Tyr77 and Met85) that are essential specifically for substrate recognition.
    Preview · Article · Mar 2011 · Biochemical Journal
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    ABSTRACT: The unstructured C-terminal domain (CTD) of eukaryotic RNA polymerase II dynamically regulates the process of transcription by recruiting different factors to nascent mRNA through its multiple phosphorylation patterns. A newly discovered class of phosphatases, the human small C-terminal domain phosphatases (Scp's), specifically dephosphorylates phosphorylated Ser(5) (phospho.Ser5) of the tandem heptad repeats of the CTD of RNA polymerase II. Scp's also function as transcription regulators that epigenetically silence the expression of specific neuronal genes, whose inactivation leads to neuronal stem cell differentiation. Small molecule inhibitors of Scp's will be valuable for elucidating their mechanism in nervous system development and can possibly offer new strategies to treat diseases related to neurodegeneration. Despite the difficulty in developing selective inhibitors of protein phosphatases, we have recognized a characteristic hydrophobic binding pocket adjacent to the active site in Scp's that may facilitate selective inhibition. In the present study, we successfully identified the first selective lead compound, rabeprazole, for the Scp/TFIIF-interacting CTD phosphatase (Fcp) family. The high-resolution crystal structure of rabeprazole-bound Scp1 showed that the compound indeed binds to the hydrophobic binding pocket. We further confirmed that rabeprazole only targets Scp's but not its close family members Fcp1 and Dullard or bacteriophage λ Ser/Thr phosphatase. Such specificity may prove important for In Vivo studies since accidental inhibition of Fcp1 or Dullard would result in cell malfunctions and even cell death.
    No preview · Article · Feb 2011 · ACS Chemical Biology
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    Mengmeng Zhang · Gordon N Gill · Yan Zhang
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    ABSTRACT: In eukaryotic cells, the transcription of genes is accurately orchestrated both spatially and temporally by the C-terminal domain of RNA polymerase II (CTD). The CTD provides a dynamic platform to recruit different regulators of the transcription apparatus. Different posttranslational modifications are precisely applied to specific sites of the CTD to coordinate transcription process. Regulators of the RNA polymerase II must identify specific sites in the CTD for cellular survival, metabolism, and development. Even though the CTD is disordered in the eukaryotic RNA polymerase II crystal structures due to its intrinsic flexibility, recent advances in the complex structural analysis of the CTD with its binding partners provide essential clues for understanding how selectivity is achieved for individual site recognition. The recent discoveries of the interactions between the CTD and histone modification enzymes disclose an important role of the CTD in epigenetic control of the eukaryotic gene expression. The intersection of the CTD code with the histone code discloses an intriguing yet complicated network for eukaryotic transcriptional regulation.
    Preview · Article · Aug 2010
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    ABSTRACT: Human small C-terminal domain phosphatase 1 (Scp1) modulates the phosphorylation state of the C-terminal domain (CTD) of eukaryotic RNA polymerase II (RNAP II), with preference for phosphorylated Ser5 in the tandem heptad repeats of the CTD. Additionally, Scp1 was identified as a conserved regulator of neuronal stem cell development. Scp1 is a member of haloacid dehalogenase (HAD) superfamily, whose catalysis depends on a Mg(2+) ion and a DXDX(T/V) motif. The first Asp of the motif is identified as the nucleophile that is subject to phosphorylation leading to a phosphoryl-aspartate intermediate. This high-energy mixed anhydride intermediate is subsequently hydrolyzed to regenerate the enzyme. In the present study, we successfully captured the phosphoryl-aspartate intermediate in the crystal structure of a Scp1D206A mutant soaked with para-nitrophenyl phosphate (pNPP), providing strong evidence for the proposed mechanism. Furthermore, steady-state kinetic analysis of a variety of Scp1 mutants revealed the importance of Asp206 in Mg(2+) coordination mediated by a water molecule. Overall, we captured the snapshots of the phosphoryl transfer reaction at each stage of Scp1-mediated catalysis. Through structural-based sequence alignment, we show that the spatial position of the D206 side chain is strictly conserved throughout HAD family. Our results strongly suggest that Asp206 and its equivalent residues in other HAD family members play important structural and possible mechanistic roles.
    Full-text · Article · May 2010 · Protein Science