Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

David J. Merkler, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Stanley M. Stevens, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Ionnis Gelis, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Lindsey Shaw, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jianfeng Cai, Ph.D.


N-acyltransferase, fatty acid amides, binding-based protein profiling (BBPP), AdoRs, microwave-assisted synthesis, non-mevalonate pathway, DXS


This dissertation is dedicated to the research and investigation of novel enzymes and the methods used to study them, with physiological roles ranging from isoprenoid biosynthesis to neurotransmitter production. Using a combination of bioinformatics, recombinant cloning, enzymology, and proteomics, we have contributed to the understanding and exploration of several human illnesses, including malaria, cancer, and endocrine dysfunction.

Our first project involved studying the enzymes responsible for N-acylarylalkylamide biosynthesis in Bombyx mori. Very little is known how these potent signaling molecules are produced in vivo, however, one possible pathway is the direct conjugation of an acyl-CoA to a corresponding arylalkylamide by the enzyme arylalkylamine N-acyltransferase (AANAT). In insects, this enzyme is responsible for controlling melanism, the inactivation of biogenic amines, the sclerotization of the insect cuticle, photoperiodism, and the penultimate intermediate in the production of melatonin. We studied a pair of AANAT enzymes from B. mori: Bm-AANAT and Bm-AANAT3. The former was found to catalyze the direct formation of long-chain acylarylalkylamines (only the second enzyme discovered to do such chemistry), while the latter exhibited potent inactivation of several amines through acetylation. We conducted a full kinetic characterization of Bm-AANAT3, including double-reciprocal plots, pH-rate profiling, dead-end inhibition, and the construction of mutants to elucidate catalytically-relevant amino acids. Our hope is that new insights and discoveries on these enzymatic pathways in model organisms will yield novel molecular targets for human health and disease.

We then developed an innovative, microwave-assisted synthesis of a binding-based probe capable of enriching proteins that bind adenine ribose derivatives (AdoRs). We employed this probe in activity-based protein profiling studies to qualitatively assess the AdoR-binding proteome in three bacterial cell lines from the genus Bacillus. This proof of concept experiment demonstrated a unique subset of proteins distinctive to each species, and confirmed the efficacy of the probe tagging and subsequent enrichment. This technology can be used in clinical applications for the detection and identification of cancerous biomarkers.

Finally, we successfully truncated and recombinantly-expressed 1-deoxy-D-xylulose-5-phosphate synthase (DXS) from both P. vivax and P. falciparum. We elucidated the order of substrate binding for both of these TPP-dependent enzymes using steady-state kinetic analyses, dead-end inhibition, and intrinsic tryptophan fluorescence titrations. Both enzymes adhere to a random sequential mechanism with respect to binding of both substrates: pyruvate and D-glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate. These findings are in contrast to other TPP-dependent enzymes, which exhibit classical ordered and/or ping-pong kinetic mechanisms. A better understanding of the kinetic mechanism for these two Plasmodial enzymes could aid in the development of novel DXS-specific inhibitors that might prove useful in treatment of malaria.