Hydroxynitrile lyases catalyze the reversible cleavage of α-cyanohydrins to yield hydrocyanic acid and the corresponding aldehyde or ketone. Besides its biological interest, this class of enzymes is also of relevance in industrial biocatalysis for the enantioselective condensation of HCN with a variety of aldehydes and ketones. Several distinctly different types of hydroxynitrile lyases (HNLs) are known, which must have originated through convergent evolution from different ancestral proteins. Three-dimensional structural data are known for three classes of hydroxynitrile lyases. Insights into the reaction mechanisms emerged from a combination of structural, enzyme kinetic, spectroscopic, and molecular modeling data. For all three types of HNLs, mechanisms involving acid–base catalysis were proposed. In members belonging to the α,β-hydrolase type, the amino acid residues of the catalytic triad presumably act as general acid/base, whereas for flavine adenine dinucleotide (FAD)-dependent HNLs a single histidine residue fulfills this function. In the third type of HNL—which is related to carboxypeptidase—acid–base catalysis involves the carboxylate of the C-terminal residue. The catalytic relevance of a positive electrostatic potential in the active site was suggested in some of the mechanistic proposals. © 2003 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Polym Sci Part A: Polym Chem 42: 479–486, 2004
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