• functional site profile;
  • redox signaling;
  • cysteine sulfenic acid;
  • cysteine reactivity;
  • mechanistic determinants;
  • post-translational modification;
  • oxidative modification


Cysteine sulfenic acid (Cys-SOH), a reversible modification, is a catalytic intermediate at enzyme active sites, a sensor for oxidative stress, a regulator of some transcription factors, and a redox-signaling intermediate. This post-translational modification is not random: specific features near the cysteine control its reactivity. To identify features responsible for the propensity of cysteines to be modified to sulfenic acid, a list of 47 proteins (containing 49 known Cys-SOH sites) was compiled. Modifiable cysteines are found in proteins from most structural classes and many functional classes, but have no propensity for any one type of protein secondary structure. To identify features affecting cysteine reactivity, these sites were analyzed using both functional site profiling and electrostatic analysis. Overall, the solvent exposure of modifiable cysteines is not different from the average cysteine. The combined sequence, structure, and electrostatic approaches reveal mechanistic determinants not obvious from overall sequence comparison, including: (1) pKas of some modifiable cysteines are affected by backbone features only; (2) charged residues are underrepresented in the structure near modifiable sites; (3) threonine and other polar residues can exert a large influence on the cysteine pKa; and (4) hydrogen bonding patterns are suggested to be important. This compilation of Cys-SOH modification sites and their features provides a quantitative assessment of previous observations and a basis for further analysis and prediction of these sites. Agreement with known experimental data indicates the utility of this combined approach for identifying mechanistic determinants at protein functional sites.