The role of sulfenic acids in cellular redox signaling: Reconciling chemical kinetics and molecular detection strategies.Arch Biochem Biophys. 2017 02 15; 616:40-46.AB
The reversible oxidation of protein cysteine residues is well recognized as an important regulatory mechanism in redox-dependent cell signaling. Cysteine oxidation is diverse in nature and involves various post-translational modifications (sulfenic acids, disulfides, etc.) and the specific functional or structural impact of these specific oxidative events is still poorly understood. The proximal product of protein cysteine oxidation by biological reactive oxygen species (ROS) is sulfenic acid (Cys-SOH), and experimental evidence is accruing for the formation of Cys-SOH as intermediate in protein cysteine oxidation in various biological settings. However, the plausibility of protein Cys-SH oxidation by ROS has often been put in question because of slow reaction kinetics compared to more favorable reactions with abundant thiol-based reductants such as peroxiredoxins (Prx) or glutathione (GSH). This commentary aims to address this controversy by highlighting the unique physical properties in cells that may restrict ROS diffusion and allow otherwise less favorable cysteine oxidation of proteins. Some limitations of analytical tools to assess Cys-SOH are also discussed. We conclude that formation of Cys-SOH in biological systems cannot always be predicted based on kinetic analyses in homogenous solution, and may be facilitated by unique structural and physical properties of Cys-containing proteins within e.g. signaling complexes.